A Brave Face
Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
8 February 2018
Over two years in the making, mask theatre Vamos, in a co-production with the Mercury Theatre, have created a tender, powerful piece about Post Traumatic Stress. Set between 2009 and 2011, two young lads from Middlesbrough join the British Army and are posted to Afghanistan. This short period of their lives is also the shortest period of the play, it’s the devastating consequences of war, the loss of one of the soldiers and the horror witnessed, that provide the bulk of the play, especially the effects on family.
Writer and Director Rachael Savage has crafted a piece perfect in its sensitivity, which even extends into the auditorium, where measures are put into place to support any veterans or audience members suffering from PTS. There are no explosions or gunfire, when a bomb goes off we are plunged into darkness, and the play is even more effective because of the care put into it. As with all Vamos productions, I swear that the masks have expressions, the cast work so well physically that I am convinced the masks laugh and cry.
The cast are superb. As Ryan, the young soldier, James Greaves charts his journey at the highest level, from bored teenager to rookie squaddie though to shaking, terrified man, fighting his demons with booze. Family bonds are portrayed really strongly, and Joanna Holden, among her many characters, is excellent as Ryan’s younger sister, cheeky, adoring and ultimately the symbol of hope. Sean Kempton is wonderfully masculine, supportive solder Jimmy, and Rayo Patel gives Ravi superb character and pathos. Angela Laverick is particularly wonderful as Ryan’s mum, an Every Mum, fussing, exuding love and concern, caring.
There are so many powerful scenes, but the show does the bonding of the small group of soldiers really well. Soldiers banter, they don’t deal with deep feelings, humour is their survival, and this is portrayed in just enough measure to make you feel the loss. The bond Ryan forms with an Afghanistan girl is a perfect reflection of his bond with his sister. Vamos are one of the best theatre companies working in Britain today, and they embark on a nationwide tour with A Brave Face. They are not to be missed.