There’s a kind of magic at work in Finding Joy. How else can you explain the profound effect that four people silently acting out the story of an elderly lady’s friendship with her grandson – their faces hidden by fixed (albeit expressive) masks – can have on an audience?
This show from Vamos Theatre – the UK’s leading full mask theatre company – is remarkable in a number of ways. Acutely observed, to the point where almost anyone will feel a familial closeness to the characters, and pitch perfect at every turn: Finding Joy definitely finds joy, but it also finds the particular stinging melancholy of ageing and nostalgia, the complex combination of frustration and devotion of family ties, and the absurd hilarity of even the most ordinary life.
The story is not original, there are no high stakes, and the climax of the plot is a group hug, but the sheer familiarity and sensitivity of this play holds its audience rapt. Blinking through your tears to see everyone else wiping their eyes at the exact same time breeds a strange sense of connection with the rest of the room that is wholly fitting for the company’s manifesto to “encourage empathy and understanding in all of us, regardless of who we are”.
It should also be said that the play is extremely well put together, and the scene changes (and era changes) happen seamlessly, sometimes out of sight and sometimes choreographed as part of the action, but always spot on.
If there is one criticism to be made, it is simply that the personalities of the characters are so well-played here that, despite the constraints of the masked format, it would have been well within the cast’s capabilities to go even deeper into the nuances of the relationships portrayed. But then again, having wrung out the audience so effectively as it is, perhaps it’s for the best that the play leaves us with the simple joy it was seeking all along.