The Human Face Of Mask

Vamos Theatre

A Brave Face

Walker Theatre

25th April 2018

Vamos Theatre Company is a mask company completely at the pinnacle of their game. A few years ago they delighted Shrewsbury audience with their show “Finding Joy,” it was a show about dementia. Still unafraid of dealing with gritty human issues “A Brave Face,” is a show addressing PTSD and they have a show that speaks to everybody in a voice so clearly: and yet they do it so silently.

For a full 80 minutes of explosive, poignant, sad and funny theatre, Vamos tell the tale of a lad Ryan, whom at 18 years old joins the army. Initially there was a sense of fun amongst the soldiers and we followed the training and marching exercises and then off they go to Afghanistan. Initially not much is happening and the soldiers have fun and send daft videos home. Ryan seems to be having a good time. It doesn’t seem so scary after all.

Ryan befriends a local Afghan girl and she sells him cigarettes and he becomes her friend. He gives her a Rubik’s Cube. The relationship strengthens. Until one day it all goes wrong. It comes as a jerky reminder to the soldiers and the audience that war isn’t fun and has no room for humanity. For fear of spoiling the story for you it is not possible to disclose what happens next. But needless to say what ensues is amazing.

But how can a group of people in masks tell a story? How can they speak? I wish I could say the answer is simple; but it actually calls for every sinew of the actor’s body to come in to play. It calls for utter commitment from the tips of the toes to the top of the head. It is a skill that many actors would love on their CV in truth there aren’t many that can put it there. Vamos has got to be the greatest exponents of this genre. To continue the analogy they can write in bold letters at the very top of their CV’s phenomenal mask worker.

With mask the use of the body is crucial, to watch Vamos achieve this to such effect is not so much breath-taking as humbling. One becomes convinced the faces are moving, they explore such emotions that one feels they must be moving but no, that is the greatness of Mask. Tonight the audience in Walker Theatre were witnessing genius and brilliance in a powerful piece of beautiful, relevant theatre.

Rachael Savage, who wrote and directed the show spent two years researching to find out what was it like to be 18 in a war you have no control over, and how do you deal with your mates being killed around you. Yet deep in the heart of all that awfulness Ms. Savage showed the audience there is humour, there is pathos and they are all just people doing mostly people stuff and sometimes horrible stuff.

As a British audience we know war is wrong and we know that the tragic waste of lives is always a salient point. What Vamos did was to take all that awfulness as read. This is neither anti nor pro war, it is a human story. Humanity is such an exciting topic after all it’s what we all know. Sometimes true narratives get lost in the boom bang death or glory shows. But they are all missing the point that Vamos so eloquently make is when it all comes down to it we are just people trying to rub along.

This is clever theatre, this is witty theatre, this is 21st century theatre, this is Vamos. To go where others won’t and to create such beautiful art with their findings is indeed a gift. This troupe never fail.

Russell Dean is the mask maker for Vamos and what an amazing talent he is. His masks are alive they speak, they warn, they reward, they love, they hate in fact they do everything in the world but move. Wherever Russell trained one hopes his lecturers come and see what he can do. I imagine one could find pictures on Vamos website. Take a look they are amazing.

From the very top to the third spear carrier Vamos has talent in buckets. This show should run and run and one can’t urge strongly enough how important it is that it should seen.

As they took their curtain call one wasn’t quite sure if the applause would ever stop, it was rapturous. Rightly so it was applause for giving a show so moving that as people were leaving one heard calls of I thought I was the only one crying. It doesn't just entertain it moves one so very deeply.

As PTSD is such a sad indictment of life in a crazy world called the Twenty-First Century, this show will never lose its relevance.

As they unmasked they mentioned to any veterans there may be in the audience that they themselves had leaflets regarding helplines and numbers and also recommended the NHS too as a place where help can be found. They didn’t do that for any other reason than the fact that this company has a heart. It takes a company with heart to power their way into one’s emotions quite so deeply.

I keep looking through my virtual thesaurus to see if I can find a another superlative instead of Fantastic and it keeps coming back to me as Vamos. Fair enough!

This is a Five Star Review

Owen J. Lewis

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Owen Lewis Owen Lewis

Owen Lewis was born fifty something years ago in the land of the black puddings. For the geographically challenged that is in Lancashire. Moving to Shropshire From 1970 Owen was brought up in Church Stretton. His first real job was in radio. After starting on BBC Radio Shropshire he became known on Marcher Sound, broadcasting throughout the North West for several years. After a university degree course in Theatre, Owen became an actor and went on to play "Pirate Bill" in The Alton Towers Hotel. He also made several television appearances. Returning to university he took his PGCE enabling him to teach. That saw him on the Essex coast as a drama teacher and latterly as a Creative Educational Liaison Officer making films and creating new teaching methods to employ on children in need of more help in their fundamental learning skills. Published playwright Owen ultimately wants a house boat in Amsterdam to focus on his work as Playwright and Poet.

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