brave face

A Brave Face

Vamos Theatre

Malvern Theatres


No words, no faces, just masks, music and mime! This was a first experience for me of a fully masked performance.

A Brave Face explores the experience of young soldiers who went to Afghanistan and witnessed and suffered gruesome things that left them traumatised – post traumatic stress!

The absence of words and human faces results in the portrayal of generic types or archetypes – the archetypical young soldier, the archetypical mother, sister, bunch of young recruits etc. One could imagine this might make them less personal and less inclined to touch our emotions, but this is not the case.

As the show progressed I felt increasingly drawn to the figures and ultimately there were very poignant and moving moments towards the end.

The programme told us that Ryan came from Middlesbrough though there was little to identify that location in the show. A teenager with nothing but trivial games to occupy his mind, he decides to join the army.

The camaraderie in basic training is followed by a posting to Afghanistan where he experiences the typical day and night patrols, the uncertain interactions with the locals represented by Khatera, the young woman in the bright red dress, then the suddenness of explosions and the impact of direct conflict.

Eventually he returns home with injuries, but the physical injuries are trivial beside the psychological ones. The conclusion brings a hint of redemption. The first half of the show includes some humour, the second more irony and poignancy.

The absence of words adds huge emphasis on the visual and musical dimensions of the show. The masks are expressive and varied, there is a huge variety of costumes and these are all designed brilliantly, adding colour, evocative qualities and elements of surprise.

After the long opening piece of music, which worried me a little by its length, we had some very effective pieces with a filmic quality that added greatly to the emotion and poignancy. The set is cleverly conceived, adapting to provide a variety of settings. Simple and effective use of the stage furniture and projections added to the actors’ mime to communicate moments like the flight of the troops to Afghanistan.

It is slightly invidious to pick out individuals in the cast for their performances. As an ensemble they were extremely well drilled, the choreography was simple but varied and effective. The masked form requires a distinct kind of ‘cartoon-like’ style of acting which the cast has mastered brilliantly.

The effect of the masks is to give the characters the impact of puppets. They seem rather small on stage. They become endearing and we feel rather paternalistic or maternal towards them.

It thereby becomes quite a moving experience to which the audience responded very enthusiastically. When the masks are eventually removed at the curtain call, the performers seem to rise to their full height and a new kind of connection is briefly established.

This is a theatrical experience to be strongly commended and recommended. They return for a further performance on Friday and then in two months’ time to the Swan Theatre in Worcester as part of their national tour. To 30-03-18

Tim Crow


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