Review – A Brave Face

A Brave Face by Rachael Savage – Vamos Theatre – New Wolsey Theatre and touring

Although full face masking has been around for some years – most famously performed by Trestle Theatre since its founding in 1981 – I had never seen a production in this genre so was fascinated to find out what it would be like to watch a purely physical drama with no script at all and no facial expression from the performers. Would it be understandable? Would the story line be easy to follow?

I need not have worried – this production was both moving and absorbing – an incredible piece of writing and performing that made the story and the emotion behind it completely accessible to the audience whatever their age and background.

On a very adaptable set five performers wearing a number of different full face masks, wigs and costumes played out the story of two young friends, Ryan and Jimmy, who join the army as a career move and find themselves caught up in the horrors of Afghanistan.

Coming back home after being wounded, Ryan finds it extremely difficult to adjust to civilian life – and although his family are supportive, goes through depression and post traumatic stress before the love of his mother and sister start to make a difference.

Although there was nothing particularly original in the plot line, since this story has been told many other times both on stage and in film, the point is probably that its worth telling again because  of that very reason – this is the story of so many young army veterans who find the trauma of their war experience and the lack of support when they get back from serving at the front so crippling.

However – this was told in such an endearing way – and with such skill by the actors – that it drew you in and made you think about it all afresh.

James Greaves plays Ryan as a rather innocent abroad, young for his age, unprepared for what he will have to face and experience. Sean Kempton played his friend Jimmy and Rayo Patel the more experienced soldier Ravi. The girls played all the other parts including Ryan’s mum and sister, the Sergeant Major and an Afghani girl caught up in the conflict.

The sound scape and lighting were vital to the performance – and on the whole worked extremely well – although I wasn’t sure why there weren’t more explosive sounds during the battle sequences – especially the most important one when Ryan got wounded. I suspect that was in respect to actual veterans that might have been in the audience – but it did seem a bit anti climatic. But that was a small niggle.

Trestle Theatre has moved on since 2004 – developing a permanent space in which to work and moving away from purely masked based drama. Vamos Theatre seems to have developed out of the work Trestle has done in order to re connect with the original vision of developing more fully masked drama for a new audience. Writer and founder Rachael Savage worked with Trestle amongst other companies before founding Vamos in 2006 and their Associate Director is a founder member of Trestle, Alan Riley.

They are already a major player on the mask stage and in 2018 become a national portfolio funded theatre. Let’s hope they stick to their roots and continue to make funny, touching and challenging physical theatre about contemporary issues for small scale venues. More please!

Suzanne Hawkes

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