How do you rehearse a play, have an argument, put on a performance, and get your point across – all without audible dialogue? Many are so used to communicating through the spoken word that it may seem impossible to imagine an alternative. But in the world premiere of La Performance, devised and directed by the Tron’s artistic director Andy Arnold, we’re taken into a totally spoken word-less world.
In a production inspired by 1940s French cinema, we witness two performers rehearse and perform, arguing when things go wrong – and blurring the line between fiction and reality, character and actor. Ahead of the show’s opening this month, SNACK spoke to one of the performers, theatre-maker and actor Ramesh Meyyappan, about his unique process and approach to creating visual, accessible work.
Hi Ramesh! I’d love to start by learning a bit about you. What brought you from Singapore to Glasgow?
Actually, I moved to Liverpool first. I completed my BA degree at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts twenty years ago, and at that time work opportunities came naturally in the UK and across Europe that I didn’t expect. My wife is Scottish, so it was her who eventually brought me to Glasgow – I’ve now been here for 16 years. The rest is history.
You talk about how, as a deaf performer, you communicate visually, and create a visual theatrical vocab for each work. How has that applied to La Performance, both in terms of the process in rehearsals, and the piece itself?
I have always created my own work using different visual elements for each production. Of course, this depends on the narrative style, and how that influences the visual elements I choose. I want to make the narrative as exciting and accessible to mainstream audiences as possible, featuring universal themes that apply to both deaf and hearing audiences. That is why I use visual language to communicate – to deaf and hearing audiences, but this also applies to different ethnicities, languages and cultures.
So, tell me about La Performance. Why should people come and see it?
Why not?! Actually, it’s the first collaboration between the Tron and the International Visual Theatre in Paris.
Although Andy Arnold has directed me before, this time we’re developing an entirely visual piece that doesn’t need to mention that I’m deaf. The language is entirely visual. This is a development of that exploration that we had – creating a communication style between two characters that is only made up of visual elements, an exploration of a visual theatrical vocabulary. That’s reason enough.
Can you give me some insight into what the devising process has been like on this show?
Before we got into a ‘room’ with Andy he had already scripted his ideas, but ensured that we understood it was just to act as a guide to our exploration. The script gave us an overview, a starting point to explore the story we wanted to tell: the relationship between these two ‘performers’ and how that plays out visually.
Much of the process in ‘the room’ has focused on looking at the language: the theatrical and visual language that would apply. This part of the process is interesting – even though Emmanuelle [Laborit, the other performer in the show and IVT’s artistic director] and myself are both deaf, our performance styles are and continue to be quite different. Emmanuelle has used a lot of sign in her performances – French sign language – while I’ve avoided signing. So much of the process allowed us to find the language that would suit our characters rather than our individual selves, and finally marry these to create the performance.
Talk to me about the intersections of cultures and art-forms happening in this show.
As Emmanuelle is French and the original story, which is based on a film, is also French, for me it feels ‘French’. Then there is the consideration of Pantomime, which feels quite gestural and big. However, from a personal perspective: given that there are two deaf actors, we cannot ignore the deaf cultural influence, and I think this is evident in the language of the piece – that it is visual.
It all sounds brilliant. What’s next for you after this show?
I am working on my new production, Love Beyond. As a deaf person who has been involved in making theatre for over twenty years, I’ve always aimed to explore a visual theatrical vocabulary to ensure my work is entirely accessible. Love Beyond will continue this exploration. I have never intentionally attempted to highlight deaf issues, but I feel this may now be an opportunity to talk about deafness and illness – specifically, the performance will look at dementia from a deaf perspective.
La Performance is showing at the Tron from 12th till 22nd October