Writer and Director: Rachael Savage
Composer: Janie Armour
Reviewer: Dan English
It is a visit back to the swinging sixties for the Marlowe Studio in Canterbury as Vamos Theatre bring their heartbreaking new production, The Best Thing.
The talented masked company, directed by Rachael Savage, tell the story of Susan, who is caught up in the free love spirit of the 60s and falls pregnant. Susan is forced to give up her baby, deemed ‘The Best Thing’, destroying her family relationships in the process. Vamos takes inspiration from real life stories of the same situation, with the company producing a stunning juxtaposition of the free spirit of the decade to the gut-wrenching situation many single mothers went through at the time. The performance’s plot is unraveled as Susan’s given up daughter Lisa searches for her roots.
The masks, designed by Russell Dean, that have become synonymous with Vamos, are just as well crafted in this production and at times it is quite forgettable that these are in fact masks. Their creativity breathes life into them, allowing the performers to produce a range of emotions through these motionless objects that create a wide range of responses from audiences throughout.
Angela Laverick is Susan, perfectly encapsulating the range of emotions her character goes through, reaching the outlandish teenager personality while also performing the vulnerability of the pregnant unmarried girl well. Laverick’s physicality is impressive throughout and her use of her body seemingly manipulates the mask too, conveying a range of feelings so successfully that the emotive reaction for the audience is a testament to her performance. As Susan grows up, so does this production and the show follows her journey from child to unmarried mum. There’s an excellently choreographed scene at the typing college which highlights and combines Susan’s eagerness to grow up with her innocence, both of which are executed superbly.
Richard J. Fletcher is Susan’s father Bill. Fletcher portrays Bill as different periods throughout the father’s life with Fletcher interacting well with Laverick throughout to create a believable, even without words, father and daughter relationship. There is a fragility to Bill’s character that Fletcher does well to demonstrate, even though he is a character that twists and turns in the eyes of the audience. His representation of the old standards is clear but there is an innocence to Bill, even in his foolish moments, that maintains the endearment to his character.
Sarah Hawkins is Lisa, Susan’s biological daughter. Hawkins creates a character finely balanced between anger at being given up with nervousness at finally meeting her birth family. Hawkins’ physicality is impressive as her performance drives the plot at times, with her tender scenes with Fletcher a really well-crafted treat near the end. Like Lisa, the audience demands answers as to why she was given up and this outpouring of emotion is largely due to the well-performed desperation of Lisa in the production.Marissa Gunter is Susan’s boyfriend, Dennis, although, like the entire cast, Gunter multi-roles in various forms throughout. Gunter provides a lot of the comic relief in this production and her performance in getting comedy across without words is exemplary. In one of her other guises, as the midwife, she works admirably to turn a distressing situation into a mildly humorous one, with help from composer Janie Armour, which is both a touching and amusing few moments of mimed comedy.
Marissa Gunter is Susan’s boyfriend, Dennis, although, like the entire cast, Gunter multi-roles in various forms throughout. Gunter provides a lot of the comic relief in this production and her performance in getting comedy across without words is exemplary. In one of her other guises, as the midwife, she works admirably to turn a distressing situation into a mildly humorous one, with help from composer Janie Armour, which is both a touching and amusing few moments of mimed comedy.
Carl Davies’ set and costume designs allow for flexibility in this studio show, with the set in particular easily manipulated to create a number of different settings. The set allows for a combination of traditional and multimedia methods to story tell and only serves to enhance this production.
The Best Thing is a beautifully crafted piece of masked mime theatre, that once again proves Vamos is the leading company in this field. Though on rare occasions the production loses a little of its pace, there is enough charm and real emotion to leave a lasting impacting on the audience, for which the entire cast deserves credit for. It is a production that touches upon issues long glossed over, in a sensitive and respectful manner that does not attribute blame but merely story tells in the most exquisite manner possible.
Runs until 25 March 2016 | Image: Contributed