Finding Joy – mac, Birmingham

Writer and Director: Rachael Savage

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Joy is 83. She loves to dance, has a wicked sense of humour, knows what she wants … and is suffering from dementia. Her daughter is struggling to care for her. Danny, Joy’s grandson, a typical teen, hangs around street corners with his mates, watches the football and enjoys the occasional spliff. Then one day he finds Joy wandering in the street in her nightie. He rescues her and finds a purpose as he cares for her in his own unique way, sharing laughter along the way.

Joy’s story isn’t exceptional: the bond she forms with Danny maybe is. Her memory might be going, but it doesn’t take much to bring her past to vivid life in her mind’s eye – traffic noise and sirens transport her back to the war when she suffered air raids and was evacuated, for example. Other triggers enable us to see how she met her husband and how their romance progressed from flirting in a tailor’s shop to dancing, picnicking and motherhood. In the present, we see her fall and require hospital treatment from a pompous, condescending doctor and extremely stroppy nurse – and engage in a battle of wills with another patient.

Vamos Theatre has been producing full mask wordless theatre since 2006. Its productions are always founded on in-depth research – in this case, based on the experiences of Penny and Rowan Greenland in coping with Penny’s mother, Audrey. Vamos generates moods through the sheer physicality of the performers and the constant soundscape written and performed by Janie Armour with Keith Moore and Caroline Hall. The whole is beautifully choreographed by Rachael Alexander; this supports the tight direction of Rachael Savage to produce a piece of great charm, combining laughter and tears. Carl Davies’ simple and ingenious set design enables the pace to be maintained as locations change – albeit requiring several quick changes of costume and mask by the cast.

The cast of four each take multiple rôles. Almost continually onstage is Bidi Iredale’s ‘Joy at 83’. Her physicality is quite perfect – showing us Joy’s wicked sense of humour, her occasional confusion and obsession with the trivial – her handbag and handkerchief, that act almost like comfort blankets. Danny is brought to life by James Greaves. His journey from aimless layabout to carer sharing in Joy’s world is well drawn. The relationship that grows between Joy and Danny is thoroughly believable: moving and funny in turn. Louise Mellor brings us, among others, ‘Joy at 8’, with her fears as she is evacuated and Joy’s daughter who seems stretched almost to breaking point by Joy’s antics. Sarah Nelson plays Danny’s teen friend, Billy with great physicality and her ‘stroppy nurse’ is realised to perfection.

At its heart, Finding Joy tells a simple and sweet story that nevertheless deals with big themes like the importance of family with conviction and charm; we are drawn in and experience Joy’s highs and lows alongside her. Vamos Theatre is to be congratulated on creating an experience that is well worth making the effort to see. Joy Found.

Runs Until 5 October 2018 and on tour | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

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A simple story beautifully told

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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