A Love Beyond - Manipulate 2023
Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance)
by Alistair Maxwell
“I love theatre that devastates me,” says an audience member above the applause, hand-waving, sobbing, and sniffing following Ramesh Meyyappan’s Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance). Co-Produced by Raw Material & Vanishing Point, this tender play exemplifies the difficulties of being a Deaf person struggling with dementia but also acts as a heart-wrenching reminder about the importance of communication.
Elicia Daly plays the sympathetic and often accidentally patronising Nurse who begins to pick up the basics of British Sign Language; as our protagonist, Ramesh Meyyappan’s Harry begins to lose it. Traditionally many Deaf people were forced to use their voice before sign language became standard practise. It was cruel and humiliating for those forced to communicate in ways they were not comfortable – but in Love Beyond as the dementia continues to chip away at Harry’s memories, his BSL - his language - is stripped away from him. Meyyappan bravely bares his natural voice on stage as Harry desperately wails and mumbles, railing against his growing inability to communicate.
He's not alone though. At night he is visited by happier memories: his younger self (Rinkoo Barpaga) and his wife (Amy Kennedy). Although his memories fade, they remain a constant light in his life. In many ways the play is a love story about an old man looking back at his happy memories, longing for the times when people were able to understand him, and he was able to express the passions of his heart.
The play is aided by a brilliant set design: three large two-way mirrors that activate upon a trick of the light. Harry is able to watch his younger self and wife meet, eat, fall in love. But they are kept away by an impenetrable barrier. As soon as he tries to explain what he has seen to his nurse, they fade back into the darkness. The three mirrors are able to ebb and flow just like his memories and at times, wall him in. Sometimes he is trapped in his own mind, unable to get back to the real world he doesn’t recognise. Sometimes he is cocooned in these mirrors, these memories, protected from the real world. Harry often looks in the mirror and sees his younger self staring right back. Just for a moment the reflections overlay, and they are one person again, old Harry is the young Harry he remembers. But the light fades and so does reality. Old Harry becomes the dominant reflection and young Harry is swallowed up, existing only in his mind. The mirrors serve both to unite and divide at different moments depending on individual interpretation but it is always clear how much Harry is struggling to unpick what he is seeing and believing.
In one particularly powerful sequence Harry dashes his head against these mirrors, frustrated by the memories. His forehead bleeds and there is an apocalyptically loud vibration that rumbles and pulsates like a heart-beat. This noise continues but so does the vibration, ensuring that the power of the moment is not lost on Deaf audience members. They can appreciate the impact just the same as those able to hear the sound.
One of the bravest creative choices in the show is the decision to throw the audience in the deep end, Deaf or otherwise. No BSL is explained, translated or given surtitles. The audience is forced to muddle though and work out the feelings and sentiments through actions, acting and visual context. A bold parallel for how Deaf people are often forced to interact with the world. At a few points Harry signs an amusing remark that audience members versed in BSL found funny. The confused silence from the rest of the audience served to illustrate how vast the communication barriers between the Deaf and non-Deaf people can be.
The play may not be cheerful, but it is beautiful. Meyyappan is a talented performer, soft and affecting enough to turn the carousel of memories into a beautiful journey rather than a slide-show of tear-jerkers. He skilfully walks the audience through Harry’s life and the set does a beautiful job of showing, not telling, culminating in a show that is both a tender romance, a tragic swan song and altogether, as that audience member aptly put it: “devastating”.