Masks. Highly characterised masks. They make everything funny, right? Spitting Image. Bo Selecta. This has to be the same, yes? Nope. Upon going to see Finding Joy, especially if you have an elderly relative, prepare to have your heart broken. But in a good way.
It will have you laughing. It will have you (almost) crying. All of this without uttering a single word or the formation of any facial expressions. Everything that this production makes you feel is based on movement – because the actors are all wearing full masks.
It would be a shame to focus solely on the masks, full of character reminiscent of Aardman’s Angry Kid, because this Vamos production offers so much more than that. It makes you feel. It shows the isolation of old age and youth. It shows how humour and love can bridge generations. It shows how funny the elderly can be. It shows how scary it is, becoming lost in dementia.
It would still be a fantastic production and performance without the masks, but it is all the more remarkable for it.
Joy, the grandmother, still has a few of her wits about her, but is struggling to keep it together as her ageing mind fights against her. Her grandson is an average teenage boy, hanging out with his mates and communicating solely through his mobile phone.
He witnesses his grandmother’s issues first hand as he finds her dangerously wandering the streets. Upon helping her home we see the two sides of Finding Joy. She playfully messes around with Danny as he tries to help, but she then instantly becomes distraught at being unable to find her precious handbag.
Danny continues to care for Joy and we see their relationship blossom. Danny doesn’t tip-toe around her (hitting her with balloons) and Joy gives as good as she gets (pinching back her Colgate ‘hand cream’ as they hug). We learn a little about Joy’s youth, as an evacuee during the war, and her marriage. It brings us closer to her struggle.
The remarkable thing about Finding Joy is that you are fully drawn into the world, feeling the warmth of the love between Danny and Joy, before jolting back to the realisation that not one word has been uttered and everything you’re feeling is because of their body language.
The set design is extremely clever, using The Tobacco Factory’s intimate space to its full advantage, repurposing doors as hospital beds and cupboards as projectors. Even better is the use of sound. Your share the feeling of loneliness with Joy as you hear the isolated ticking of a clock. You understand the confusion of dementia as several tracks build on top of each other, almost feeling it yourself.
Finding Joy is a powerful, creative and touching production. As you leave this production, exclaiming how remarkable it is, you’ll have an overwhelming urge to go and see that elderly relative and give them a big hug. Do it.
Finding Joy is touring the UK until mid-June. To see if they are playing somewhere near you check out their website.
Tickets for Finding Joy were provided by The Tobacco Factory for an independent review. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review. You can read my review policy here.