Dead Good, from VAMOS Theatre, is a silent, expressive journey into friendship, and death. It’s a truly accessible show, with a valuable, and heart-felt message. If it starts a little slow, it sure finishes with a bang.
📍 The Studio, Edinburgh
📅 13 – 14 February 2020
🕖 Running time: 1hrs 10mins (no interval)
👥 Written and Directed by Rachael Savage
👥 Additional writing by James Greaves and Alan Riley
👥 Masks made by Russell Dean
👥 Film and Projection design by Daniel Hill
🎶 Composition and Sound Editing by Janie Armour
💰 From £12.50
🎭 This production is accessible to deaf audiences without a signer
Bob (Aron De Casmaker), and Bernard (James Greaves), are dying. In what is rather an unusual meet-cute, they run into one another in a hospice. The latter is wealthy, with a fine collection of vintage cars; the former is a mechanic. They take to the road, seeking life-confirming adventure, and whatever comes their way.
Mortality follows on their heels, implacable, and growing ever closer. Dead Good, asks whether love, friendship, and joie de vivre can make a palpable, and positive difference to the inevitable.
This is the first full mask performance I have attended, but I found it to be a powerful device. Stripped of facial expression, and vocal tone, both actor, and audience, must pay far closer attention to the performance. It’s all ‘show,’ and no ‘tell.’ There’s little interference to prevent the watcher from finding themselves in the watched. Russel Dean’s Strangeface masks are terrifically expressive; not quite caricature, but still full of character.
The performers are a credit to the company, and display just the expertise one might expect from such a leading company in their field. The central pairing exhibit not just the comic chemistry necessary to carry the piece, but also the tact to convey their vulnerability, and fear. Hospice worker, Marie (Angela Laverick), and nurse Shefali (Joshua Patel) are also portrayed both affectionately, and respectfully.
The play opens a little slowly, no doubt intended to convey the miserable morass beckoning to the recently diagnosed. Bernard’s rather boundary crossing personality, though far from unbelievable, is played with perhaps a touch too much comedy, and too little censure.
Once Bob, and Bernard, hit the road, however, there’s pace, and joy in abundance. For a play about death, there’s no lack of fun, or well-judged physical comedy. Pathos is brushed in gentle, an delicate strokes. Their illnesses are an integral presence, never forgotten, but never milked for melodrama.
Bob’s clearly loving partner, perhaps wife, is a significant presence within the play, but, at some point, she leaves the stage, never to return. This apparent abandonment jars a touch, and detracts, for me at least, from the life-affirming story-arc intended.
Nonetheless, when an end comes, it does so in sympathetic style. There’s much to admire, and Dead Good leaves a lasting, and uplifting impression. Life limiting illness isn’t portrayed as a barrel of laughs, but neither does it steal all agency from our protagonists. Bob and Bernard can still make meaningful choices.
Carl Davies’ set is elegant, simple, and above all functional, serving both as backdrop, and a screen upon which splendid movies of the friends’ capers are projected. Daniel Hill’s ‘outside broadcasts’ are a real highlight of the show. The soundtrack, from composer, Janie Armour, makes a pleasant, gently mood setting, companion throughout the play.
Writer and director Rachael Savage was, she reports, terrified, and professionally driven by, a fear of death. Though always explicitly socially invested, it’s unlikely Dead Good would ever have been made, but for the request of company admirer, and end of life specialist, Dr. Maggie Keeble. It turns out to have been a very good idea.
Dead Good really is rather good, and definitely quite a trip. It even managed not to trigger this reviewer’s quite spectacular hypochondria. Despite some narrative niggles, I’d still recommend it to your consideration.
Dead Good played at the Studio Theatre until 14 February 2020. It will tour until 02 April.
For tour dates, and more information see: https://www.vamostheatre.co.uk/shows/show/dead-good
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