(Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/6.)
At the end of many mask theatre shows, there is a brilliant moment when the actors remove their masks and we’re surprised by the performers behind. When I saw Vamos’s Finding Joy at Jacksons Lane in London in 2014, audience members were audibly astonished and delighted to discover the actors bore so little resemblance to the characters they had played. In mask theatre the old can be young again, while the youthful can play the old. Gender, too, is up for grabs. It’s also an economically advantageous art form: a small company can play many characters.
There is a strange alchemy about mask theatre. The ancient Greeks recognised its power and contemporary audiences seem increasingly drawn to a form that until recently was dismissed as a wee bit fusty. But of course so was puppetry, and that’s certainly not the case in the wake of War Horse .