Vamos is rapidly establishing itself as one of the most innovative, exciting full-mask mime companies currently touring. Finding Joy will only enhance its reputation. To claim that the play “deals with the issues surrounding dementia” is grossly to underrate its sensitivity and anarchic humanity. It is in no sense an earnest, agenda-driven example of issue-prompted theatre.
It tells, touchingly but with no hint of sentimentality, the story of Joy, struggling to make sense of a world of confusion and fear, surrounded by a gallery of carers, some familial, some institutional. To the amazement and eventual delight of her hard-pressed daughter, Joy’s salvation materialises in the unlikely person of her wildly unconventional grandson. The growing bond of trust and love is superbly dramatised in an episodic structure recreating as memory recollection the seminal moments of her life, from wartime evacuation to courtship, marriage and childbirth. Tribulation and frustration are never underplayed, but are brilliantly transcended by comic inventiveness and an immensely affirmative joie de vivre.
So much of this achievement is realised by the expressive use of mask and mime in the consummate hands of four performers, by a hauntingly atmospheric soundscape, echoing the periods of Joy’s life. Tellingly, Finding Joy does just that; it undercuts stereotyping and avoids easy demonisation - the professional carers are seen as far from callously clinical. In the director’s own words - the piece “seeks to go beyond dementia to rediscover the person”. It is an intensely moving tribute and triumph. Catch it while you can.