Writer and Director: Rachael Savage
Reviewer: George Attwell Gerhards
Vamos Theatre, a company that tours full mask devised pieces, have created a charming, sweet and gently funny story about family with Finding Joy. Joy, on her 83rd birthday, suffers a fall and finds herself in hospital where, although not made explicit (being a mime, nothing is made explicit) it is implied that she is suffering from dementia too. As the intensity of care she requires increases, help comes from an unlikely source: her rebellious grandson Danny.
It goes without saying that the masks are important here. Being a full mask company the performers are completely dependent on their body language and the face permanently sketched for them. Russell Dean’s masks are fun, if a little homogeneous, going for the extenuated-features-but-still-lifelike model. Some are funny, others (particularly Joy’s) quite touching; although it is a little disappointing not to see the same character come on with a different mask at any point. For Joy to last the whole play with the same face jars with the narrative, particularly when she gets lost in nostalgic flashbacks of her childhood – still keeping the same face she has when intimidated in a hospital bed. That said, among the characters there is enough diversity not to get too bored by it. The four performers (multi-roling but you can’t tell until the bow – they’re that good) are clearly experts in this sort of performance, completely conveying their characters in their body language alone. Occasionally an action will be lost on the audience (with no words, it is imperative you understand exactly what they are doing) and what seems like an attempt at a joke is muddled and confused, but these are rare exceptions.
Janie Armour’s music also plays a key rôle, giving each scene a nice varying tone (the twee plodding of Joy’s bedroom; the grungey garage of Danny’s street friends) but when scenes go on for too long it can be repetitive, leaving the audience wanting to escape the annoying ostinatos. Carl Davies’ set is terrific, wonderfully versatile and slick, compartments folding out of compartments as the same set is literally transformed into many different locations before your eyes.
Rachael Savage’s direction is successful, creating the right sort of sweet (but never saccharine) tone while not avoiding the more serious moments when Joy’s condition is really met head on. For instance when Joy wakes up in the middle of the night and wonders outside with a plastic bag on her foot in place of a slipper and a tea-towel round her head it’s a genuinely moving moment. If there is a part of the plot that comes across a bit cringeworthy it is Danny’s transformation from casual drug user to loveable sweetheart. At times it comes across as an educational video you’d show children to put them off drugs.
Finding Joy is never going to set the world alight, but for a lovely tale of the generations coming together in times of crisis, finding beauty in the elderly and hope in the youth, this is a wonderfully optimistic piece.
Reviewed on 27th February and touring nationally.