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The Best Thing – Barnsley Civic

Writer / Director: Rachael Savage

Music: Janie Armour

Reviewer: Ray Taylor

Vamos Theatre is the UK’s leading full mask Theatre Company, a type of theatre that can be compared to Japanese Noh. Here, they present their latest production, a bittersweet story of teenage pregnancy and its aftermath. Rachael Savage’s original inspiration for the story came from an article in a major broadsheet concerning several unmarried mothers in the 1960s, who’d had their babies taken away from them at birth or shortly afterwards. The play begs the question: “Who is to blame?” but the answers are varied – the parents who cannot face the shame of an illegitimate baby in the family, pressure from the church, society in general. There are no easy answers and the play concentrates more on the consequences of decisions that affect the many different people involved and how these consequences can sometimes last a lifetime.

There is no dialogue throughout and makes the production accessible to deaf audiences, although there is a fairly constant musical soundtrack that reflects the swinging sixties. All the emotion, pathos, humour and power of the action is conveyed by the skill of the four performers in their movement. It cannot even be called mime as such, because they wear cleverly designed full masks and wigs that are fixed and negate any facial expression. The amazing thing about these is that they do seem to change their expression even though you know that is impossible. This illusion is created by the way the actors interact with each other and the physical movement they adopt for their own individual characters. All four actors, who each play a variety of roles and have at times to manage some very quick costume changes, deserve to be named. They are Richard J. Fletcher, Marissa Gunter, Sarah Hawkins and Angela Laverick. It is quite a shock to see the real faces beneath the masks as they take them off for their final bows, so accustomed are the audience to seeing them in their alter egos. Credit also goes to Russell Dean who designed and made the masks.

The play is very moving and ultimately thought-provoking. It succeeds both as entertainment and a challenging piece of social history and is to be applauded.

Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. 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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