by Rachael Savage.

Tour to 10 July 2012.
Runs 1hr 45min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 January at The Castle Wellingborough.

Secrets of Salop’s sporting past unmasked – and masked.

Now here’s a funny thing. Once upon a time in the west of England a doctor reinvented the Olympic Games. Not a lot of people know that. But Vamos theatre does, and is carrying an Olympic flame round England’s theatres, arts centres and village halls to prove it.

Yet, pleasant and amusing as it often is, their masked play isn’t an entirely comical affair. Nor were the Greek-inspired sports organised for Much Wenlock, Shropshire, in 1850 by local doctor William Penny Brookes. His aim was to provide exercise and self-esteem for a working population drowning their hard lives in alcohol.

A male-only event, it could still include a knitting race – clicked-out here at great pace to Janie Armour’s always characterful music, in a score mixing folksy rhythms and surprising sounds to fit each scene.

Occasionally Armour’s score falls silent. Nothing’s needed as sound-track to the sudden tragedy befalling the Sankey family, a foursome representing the working people beneath the sternly-dressed figures of doctor, policeman, clergyman, teacher. Life with them starts comically enough as young Eddie tries to evade bath-time. But the second act brings a sudden interruption and fatal accident. A bandaged body and funeral beneath umbrellas in pouring rain are themselves silently eloquent.

As are the masks, expressive faces with years of rural Shropshire life etched into their lines: the indignant, purposeful doctor, the innocent constable or maternally-observant schoolteacher. Young Eddie’s wide-eyed innocence contrasts the playground bully’s assertive expression over receding mouth and chin. His assured lope, the local barmaid’s long black-hair given its own expression by her sliding gait, a fair-haired school-girl settling Eddie’s future by removing his book to seduce him into a game of cat’s-cradle, are among many moments where mask and body fuse, making archetype and the individual coexist.

It takes some time for the games to emerge (and there’s more gamesmanship than sportsmanship in the main race, which would have disappointed Dr Brookes), while the piece is often more enjoyable for the ingenuity of individual moments than overall pace of development. Still, it’s a well-performed show opening a surprising moment in social, and sporting, history.

Mother Sankey/Dr Brookes/Butcher Blockley/Adeline/Miss Beatty: Honor Heskins.
Eddie Sankey/Lucy Wheel/Butcher’s Wife/PC Dogberry/Dr Brookes: Tigger Blaize.
Dad Sankey/Archibald Blockley/Reverend Benedict/Mrs Doolittle: Chris Gunter.

Director: Rachael Savage.
Designer: Rob Dicke.
Composer: Janie Armour.
Movement: Neil Bettles.
Masks: Russell Dean.
Clown Consultant: Cal McCrystal.
Costume: Hayley Spicer.
Assistant choreographer: Rachael Alexander.

2012-01-26 15:25:30

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