Finding Joy (Bristol)

”Finding Joy” at the Tobacco Factory is a simply beautiful production on dementia and the effects it has on its carers, that left this reviewer in tears

Finding Joy, now showing at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, can be summed up in two words: simply beautiful. When I was asked to review this show I had some reservations – masked work can work very well if done well, but it can also be a disappointing let down. I needn’t have worried, for Finding Joy is superb.

It tells the story of an 83-year-old lady, Joy, who enjoys life, loves dancing and has a devilish sense of humour. Sadly, however, she is suffering from dementia. We see Joy becoming more and more confused whilst trying hard not to let go. Her grandson – quite rebellious, a bit of a trouble maker, you know the type – unexpectedly turns out to have a wonderful gift of compassion and so becomes her carer. As the story unfolds we see the growing, loving relationship developing between Joy and her grandson – they share dances, jokes – even a football match on the television. Joy may not always be aware of who her grandson is, or even who she is, but this does not stop the love and affection between them showing through.

Finding Joy is written and directed by Rachael Savage who provides an empathetic and sure hand. The story is based on a friend of Savage’s who cared for her own mother’s dementia for eight years. As in the story, the friend’s son proved to be a natural carer, and for the last eighteen months of her life became her legal carer. Savage directs the show in a sensitive and moving manner, bringing pathos, humour, fear and love all the way through it

The play is performed by members of Vamos Theatre Company – James Greaves, Richard J Fletcher, Nanou Harry and Sarah Hawkins. Wearing full masks and with no words they portray the gamut of emotions throughout the piece that take the breath away. Every part is believable and you actually forget that they are wearing masks. The masks are designed and made by Russell Dean and what an impressive job he has done.

The set is simple but very versatile and effective and the costumes are just right. The lighting and music provide a sensitive and sympathetic background and are never intrusive.

This is an all round impressive production. Savage, in her programme notes, says “I wanted to find a way of connecting the loss with the finding: the looking beyond the dementia to the person.” In Finding Joy this was certainly achieved – I left in tears, and I wasn’t the only one!

– Barbara Maxwell