Review: Vamos Theatre’s A Brave Face (Touring)

Saturday 27th April 2019 at the Carriageworks, Leeds.


A Brave Face is Vamos’s latest work and it stands out primarily as a play much darker than its predecessors. It’s also much more subtle and thought-provoking in its ambiguity and dramatic ending. The play is based on two years of research with ex and serving soldiers and their families and that background shines through in what is ultimately a tribute to those who have served and perhaps feel isolated and unseen on their return to ‘normal’ life.

Vamos’ Artistic Director, Rachael Savage, writes and directs in classic Vamos style: creative, moving, funny and stylish. It’s not as funny or stylish as some of the previous works but that’s to be expected considering the subject matter: PTS. In a wordless full-mask world, Ryan (James Greaves) is a cheeky scallywag who delights in winding up his sister Katie (Sophia Knox-Miller) and his Mum (Tessa Gaukroger, who also plays Troop Sergeant Alex).

Ryan’s domestic world fades to background and we follow him into Afghanistan where he passes time dealing with locals and cavorting with comrades Ravi (Joshua Patel) and Jimmy (João Ricardo Aguiar) via some exuberant choreography by Rachael Alexander. The silly bravado doesn’t last as reality hits and his life and sense of self plummet downwards. Injured, he returns home in pain extending beyond his physical injuries and it’s this part of his journey that the play spends time exploring.

In the dark worlds of war and its aftermath, Composer Janie Armour and Lighting Designer Matt Clutterham perfectly craft the sense of devastation and isolation of our tormented character. Carl Davies’ set is a void with simple props shifting us between home and army bases and Projection designs from Daniel Hill give us the deep drama of danger. As a combined effort, the design team does an excellent job in achieving the wartime effects and reflections of emotional torment. 

The performances from a beautifully trained cast are certainly given greater impact for the designs surrounding them and it’s a brilliant cast who manage to show once more the beauty and the power of a piece without dialogue. In fact, as ever, this production highlights the extraordinary capabilities of full mask theatre. Russell Dean’s masks are excellent and in the right hands of a talented cast like this one, those unmoving features carry worlds of meaning. 

What’s particularly impressive about A Brave Face is that it shows Vamos’ dexterity in shifting away from the winning ratio of laughter and tears 2:1 over to something altogether more dramatic and sobering. Finding Joy was incredibly moving and also looked at a very real struggle being faced, but there was much more humour there being leaned on. Previous works have all looked at the happy in direct association with the sad. Here, the company announce their ability to deliver a hard-hitting drama with far fewer laughs and plenty of food for thought.

A Brave Face is a powerful departure and although this was the last show of the run so I can’t really recommend this show to you, I can recommend Vamos as an exciting company who consistently deliver excellence in full mask storytelling. Find out more about them here.

A Brave Face is a co-production of Mercury Theatre Colchester and a co-commission with London International Mime Festival.

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