dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Living life to the full while staring death in the face
Full mask theatre company Vamos have tackled thorny issues like dementia and post-traumatic stress in the past and their new show Dead Good aims to turn the spotlight on end of life.
The production opens with two strangers, Bob and Bernard, both being given their terminal diagnoses. It's a bolt from the blue for both of them but, along with their relevant paperwork, they are also each given a leaflet for a local hospice.
And it's here that the two meet and strike up a friendship. Bernard is older, wealthier and determined to live life to the full, flirting with the nurses, joking with the other patients and befriending Bob. Initially cautious, the younger Bob soon warms to Bernard's eternal optimism and the two head off on a series of adventures.
From the seaside to the glitz of The Ritz Hotel, Bernard always has a bottle of Champagne on hand and Bob has his mobile phone to capture every moment.
The show was created by Vamos artistic director Rachael Savage with help from staff and patients at local hospices. And this shows. There's a real understanding of the pathos of death – even when the two men are making the most of their time on earth, we're constantly reminded of the fragile state of their health as both the beach trip and the afternoon drinks party are cut short due to the symptoms of their illnesses.
There's a charm to their relationship and the joy they find in the simplest of pleasures – whether it's sitting in a deckchair, paddling in the sea or causing havoc at The Ritz. And, as we see their relationship deepen through their shared experiences, we also feel their enthusiasm for life.
But the show doesn't shy away from the story it's trying to tell and it's also heartbreakingly sad as their friendship reaches its inevitable conclusion. These scenes are sensitively written and played so that we all feel the loss. There's plenty to smile at with some cheeky humour between the two guys but it's also a tear-jerker as that companionship moves from the seaside to a hospice bedroom.
Aron de Casmaker as Bob and James Greaves as Bernard are adorable and thoroughly believable as the two men, creating a strong bond of friendship through simple gestures and touch. Angela Laverick and Joshua Patel play a host of roles including health staff, waiters and fellow beach-goers.
The production also makes lively use of film projection – showing us the men out on the road and using the backdrop to share text messages and photos, all helping to give their friendship an additional dimension.
The arts can sometimes shy away from an honest exploration of death and dying but Vamos' Dead Good shows that the subject can be tackled head-on while creating lovely, thought-provoking and memorable theatre.
Performed at the Bridge House Theatre in Warwick, see vamostheatre.co.uk for full tour details.