Chris Eldon Lee reviews VAMOS Theatre Company’s “Finding Joy” which tours to various Shropshire area venues this spring and summer.
My maiden aunt in Manchester is now 90.
Ivy finds her Alzheimer’s very frustrating, but also strangely entertaining. I recently took her to the very modern Manchester Royal Infirmary where we waited on rows of shiny seats in the lofty, architectural concourse. After a few minutes she turned to me and asked, “What time’s our flight?” Once I’d explained, we both had a good laugh.
Alzheimer’s is an infuriating disease. But amidst the constant fear of ‘falls’ and ‘wanderings off’ there is love and laughter to be found within it. The most obvious symptoms are very verbal; endlessly repeated questions and impossible miscomprehensions. So when Vamos mask-mime theatre company (of which I am a great fan) announced they were going to do a wordless show inspired by a family coping with dementia, my big question was “How?”
The answer is with large helpings of love and laughter.
The endearing and enduring magic of Vamos is their commensurate use of cameo and character to tell a simple story. Joy is 83 and losing it. Her grandson Danny is a pill-popping, street hoodie who raises his game to care for her. Both lives are broadened by the relationship.
As ever with Vamos, it’s the exquisite characterisations defined by detailed gestures and immaculately controlled body language that win you over. When you’re wearing a fixed stare, it’s amazing how eloquent even posture can be – and how props assume a life of their own. By the curtain, Joy’s handbag had become a personal friend.
Creator Rachel Savage has a wicked eye. Danny and his mates are beautifully observed as they hallucinogenically prank around the streets, underpants akimbo. (The students at the back of the stalls recognised them instantly). Her cast of four has also come up with a hilariously definitive range of bored and distracted NHS staff. (The actors must have spent as much time in hospital waiting rooms as I have). And the bullying old biddy and the Teddy Boy trying to protect his hairstyle from the rain are moments of genius.
Then there are the ingenious set pieces.
Danny finds an old reel of black and white film and has it transferred to DVD. Screening it unlocks a wealth of comic memories that richly embellish the storyline, especially when we actually see the little Scottie dog Joy thinks she still has.
Part of the reason my Aunt Ivy is in a Home is because the M60 now severs her weekly walk to Denton Market and there were concerns she would not notice the motorway was there. So my heart was in my mouth when Joy slipped away in her nightie onto Danny’s dark streets. The actor’s bodily bewilderment and Janie Amour’s roaring and hooting sound track generate a real sense of sweaty-palm danger.
This is another laugh/cry hit from Vamos, with their company trademarks of sweet little old ladies, wartime flashbacks and singing animals all firmly in place. Without resorting to words, they very cleverly tell a universal tale that is both thoroughly thought provoking and charmingly funny.
For more information & venues visit www.vamostheatre.co.uk