Vamos Theatre may be masked, but the emotions are not hidden
Vamos Theatre, the UK's leading mask theatre company, demonstrate the bewildering beauty of this underused art form in Finding Joy. Now 83, Joy is celebrating her birthday. She's full of the charms of life and is still young at heart – but she's losing her memory and gets into trouble when she falls by her bed.
Knowing that Joy needs care, her grandson Danny acts as her accomplice in life and, together, the duo act as mischievously as each other. Joy plays tricks on nursing staff and her daughter, who constantly worries about her, and Danny takes recreational drugs in his spare time. But Rachael Savage's direction (she also wrote the play) unites the pair at either ends of life, as they watch everything from football matches to nostalgic videos from Joy's youth.
It is difficult to imagine the emotional impact of these intricate masks, worn with Hannah Marshall's realistic costumes, if you're unfamiliar with the device – how Russell Dean's masks interact with Rachael Alexander's choreography, how the actors carry themselves and how composer Janie Armour combines a heritage playlist in the play's throwback moments.
Masks are simply emphatic but feel more anonymous than an actor's face – it means Joy could conceivably be everyone's grandma. Pair that with the complex, alluring and unconventional companionship between Joy and Danny, who find love and laughter against the odds, and Finding Joy is an intensely emotional and very worthwhile watch.
Assembly Hall, run ended.