THE BEST THING
Vamos Theatre at the Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
for The Reviews Hub
Masks are a very ancient theatrical tradition. Today, that tradition is kept alive by Vamos “the UK's leading full mask theatre company”.
This bittersweet tale of the permissive society, social stigma and a love-child lost is brilliantly brought to life by four performers and many more masks.
The scenery – designer Carl Davies - is skewed, fun and bright – not unlike the show itself, which despite the tragic theme retains a lightness of touch and a veneer of nostalgia which helps to sugar the pill.
Susan, child of the 60s – Georgie Girl and Shout! on the soundtrack – reads Lady C, gets her hair bobbed and her clothes Quant-ified, drags boyfriend Dennis away from the World Cup to make clumsy love in the light-box bedroom. Their baby is given up for adoption, on her dad's insistence, it would seem. He offers her a Beatles LP by way of compensation. Young Dennis would love to be a father, but Susan has walked out of his life, her contact with her daughter Lisa is limited to letters and birthday cards, never sent. Ingeniously, and movingly, the action is framed and fleshed out by Susan's funeral, and the reunion of Lisa and her grandfather.
There are some terrific set-pieces: the three women in the hairdressers, the three students at the typing school, the three mothers in the labour ward. The use of body language is impressive. It is amazing how much can be conveyed without words, or facial expression. Although, weirdly, the features of Russell Dean's wide-eyed masks do seem to alter according to our expectations of the characters' moods – exasperated or affectionate, imploring or severe.
The audience does have to do some of the work, of course. Interestingly, the teenage girls in the row in front struggled a little with the form - “It's not the same without speech...” and felt the need to explain the plot to each other, in discreet whispers, as it developed.
Rachael Savage's piece is an unusual approach to a largely forgotten piece of social history – a period well within living memory when many young women lost their babies to adoption simply because they were born out of wedlock.
It is beautifully, sensitively brought to life by the four actors: Richard J. Fletcher, Marissa Gunter, Sarah Hawkins and Angela Laverick. The original music by Janie Armour, and the vintage sounds of Donizetti and the Swinging Sixties, together with the décor and fashions of the age, set it firmly in period. Mask means that much more doubling can be done, and it also means that the work is equally accessible to speakers of any language, and to deaf and hearing audiences alike.