From start to finish, this show was a delight to witness. The story is simple really. Joy is Danny's grandmother, and is losing her memory; Danny is rebellious and a bit of a bad boy. When he realises that his grandmother needs looking after, Danny takes on the job, and their playful relationship is allowed to blossom right before our very eyes.
It’s clear from the offset that there is a great mutual affection between Danny and Joy, whose confusion poignantly gathers momentum as the play evolves. On her birthday, there’s the simplicity of a loving game with a balloon, and Danny consistently understands that her one precious possession – a handbag – represents her safety and security.
Each actor plays a number of different characters, distinguished only by a different mask, and together they create a series of memorable scenes without using a single spoken word. The dynamic between all the characters was quickly established, with the contrast in relationships cleverly and subtly acted out. Here lies the power of the masks – and the physicality of the actors was so accurate, that just a look portrayed a million words.
The production relies heavily on music to help create these scenes, and this technique never disappointed, from the Frank Sinatra playing as the audience came into the theatre to the tunes of the war years. I also particularly appreciated the use of an old fashioned style cine-film reel, which allowed the audience to be transported back in time with Joy. We see her relationship as a child with her own mother and her much beloved family pet dog. Mirroring this, the cast brought them to life on stage, and we witnessed the wartime memories that the increasingly-confused Joy is experiencing. These scenes were moving, touching and joyful, and I enjoyed the contrasts between how the three generational mothers were portrayed.
The ever-growing kindness shown by Danny is beautifully and sensitively acted. He finds the game in everything, even when gently helping his grandmother to get ready for bed. His gift of the lip-synching Highland Westie singing along to the old hit song I Love You With All My Heart was both a message for his grandmother and a true theatrical treat.
But I did find the performance overly long in parts and, as time went on, found myself increasingly willing the scenes to be shorter. Sometimes less is more. The hospital scene, for example, felt drawn-out – to the point of being repetitive – and its message became diluted as a result.
In my experience however, Vamos always deliver thought-provoking material, and this production is no exception. Slick, smooth and seamless, it’s an uplifting story with subtle undertones, about more than just the perils of growing older. And with its ending of reconciliation, new understanding and forgiveness, it is a reminder that we should all live each day to its fullest – doing the things that bring us the most pleasure and joy.