Ramesh Meyyappan and Emmanuelle Laborit’s almost-two-hander (were it not for a few interjections from pianist Ross Whyte, who plays beautifully) devised and directed by Andy Arnold, is a love letter to commedia dell’arte and vintage French cinema. Its style is instantly recognisable: sad-eyed clowns, flirty dancers, revolutionaries, fortune tellers and pickpockets are skilfully rendered here.
‘Backstage’ though, things aren’t running quite as smoothly.The characters, actors known only as Her and Him, seem poles apart – he’s a slightly uptight stickler for fitness; she’s a dissolute minx slugging back booze and reeking of fags. Yet, as time passes, Him seems to be increasingly harbouring desires for Her, who seems not only disinterested, but a tad callous towards the hapless man.
Both actors are superb, and share immense chemistry. It still feels radical to see two deaf actors in leading roles. Hopefully, it won’t always be so rare. Meyyappan is always loveable and charming, and Laborit, enormously versatile. Both excel in physical comedy: particularly enjoyable is when Meyyappan mimes his own disembowelment, only to fashion the innards into a skipping rope. Laborit excels when goofily parodying the Pierrot’s most coy mannerisms.
However, the pacing is a little off. It takes a while to warm up. So long is spent on the backstage scenes, that it initially lacks a sense of dynamism. This is but a small quibble though, because it’s mostly utterly beguiling – a show that both homages and deconstructs the enduring appeal of traditional theatre with wit, poignancy and a big heart.
Learn more about La performance by reading our interview with Ramesh Meyyappan: snackmag.co.uk/interview-ramesh-meyyappan-la-performance