Susan and her record player
The Best Thing
HAILED as the country’s leading full mask theatre company, Vamos are now in their eleventh year of touring and performing.
As they are based fairly locally to me at Worcester Arts Workshop I’m lucky enough not only to have seen one of their previous productions, Finding Joy, but also to have participated in a Vamos full mask theatre workshop.
Some of the challenges and indeed the liberation of mask work are not too difficult to imagine, but one factor that I was perhaps more aware of than other audience members watching The Best Thing was that spending any length of time in full mask even without theatre lighting can soon become uncomfortably warm!
The Best Thing begins with a meeting of two apparent strangers at the funeral of Susan Jeffries. We are then shown how this relationship develops, as their encounters are interwoven with flashbacks to the mid-sixties and the defining and devastating life event of Susan (played charmingly by Louise Mellor) and the huge impacts of this on those around her.
Without giving away who’s who, it is interesting to note that the play (written and directed by Rachael Savage) was inspired by an article in The Observer by Yvonne Roberts on enforced adoption in the sixties, which quotes figures of up to 16,000 British babies a year being put up for adoption, against the wishes of their mothers.
Susan’s story shows us how ideas of right and wrong within society can control and ultimately ruin lives, and unsurprisingly the play is incredibly moving in places.
However, there is, as always with Vamos, much humour, so there was laughter as well as tears amongst the audience throughout the evening. This humour is increased considerably by Rachael Alexander’s choreography, particularly in scenes such as the ones at secretarial school, on the labour ward and at the hairdressers, with original music and effective lighting also playing important parts in the production.
Fun and fashionable costumes and sixties attire by Carl Davies add to the spectacle, and his clever set design makes for seamless scene changes between settings as diverse as a quiet church, a single man’s kitchen and a teenager’s bedroom.
As there is no dialogue, the mood is very much created by the actors’ gait and physical interaction, and it is easy to forget that nobody is speaking, and indeed that there are no changes in facial expression, however much a character’s mood seems to show on their face.
It is remarkable to me that such a small cast (in this case of just four) can portray so many utterly dissimilar characters, and Marco Nanetti’s unmistakably lean physique again added humour, as he morphed between the characters of Susan’s hip boyfriend, and those of a bustling maternity nurse, a bored waitress, a skittish hair stylist, an efficient typing tutor and a straight laced adoptive mother. Somehow his entrance alone often raised a laugh. Aron De Casmaker and Hannah Kimpton were the other two highly talented and adaptable cast members, and all received much well deserved applause at the end of the production when they unmasked themselves and addressed the audience with their voices for the first time.
Sponsored by Arts Council England, Sir Barry Jackson Trust, Worcestershire County Council and Worcester Arts Partnership, and made in association with London International Mime Festival, The Best Thing is accessible to deaf and hearing audiences alike, and running at 80 minutes plus interval and with some adult themes is billed as being suitable for those of twelve years of age and upwards, although I didn’t realise that until my eleven-year-old had thoroughly enjoyed the production!
Vamos tour different productions throughout the UK annually, so it is well worth keeping an eye on their website for future tours. They also perform and provide walkabout entertainment at national and international festivals and events, as well as running workshops for young people and adults in many different settings, including running their own Young People’s Theatre for budding full mask theatre stars. Their work is accessible to all, so even if you’re unsure what mask work is all about I’d urge you to give one of their productions a go. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
The Best Thing moves straight on to Wolverhampton before touring Britain throughout the spring.
Midland venues on the tour:
14-15 Feb, Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton , WV1 1SE (relaxed performance 15 Feb) 01902 321321; 02 Mar, Artrix, Bromsgrove, B60 1PQ, 01527 577330; 07-08 Mar, Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury, SY3 8FT, 01743 281281; 18 Mar, Market Theatre, Ledbury, HR8 2AQ, 07967 517125; 29 Mar, mac Birmingham, B12 9QH, 01214 463232; 31 Mar, Conquest Theatre, Bromyard, HR7 4LL, 01885 488575; 05 Apr, Relaxed Performance, Artrix, Bromsgrove, B60 1PQ, 01527 577330; 06 Apr, The Bridge House Theatre, Warwick, CV34 6PP, 01926 776438; 07 Apr, The Courtyard, Herefordshire's Centre for the Arts, Hereford, HR4 9JR, 01432 340555.