Written by Ramesh Meyyappan
Directed by Matthew Lenton
The stream of productions which open themselves up to offer an insight into the lives of those living with dementia is becoming a more commonplace and tightly executed trend in Scottish theatre. A remarkably pure story of a love story of loss, and self-love, Raw Material and Vanishing Point’s Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance) lifts the building blocks of our lives and holds them up, magnifying the difficulties and anxieties which come with dementia and using sign language in a vocal world.
Openly vulnerable, Ramesh Meyyappan’s production captures the simplicity of a love story through new eyes: using a tale we can all relate to through a man many of us cannot. Harry has dementia. He’s also a user of sign language. And as he gets to grips with his new home, and carer, Harry doesn’t enter this space alone – carrying with him the spectre of his past which fade in and out of the space alongside him.
Through spectacular stagecraft and Simon Wilkinson’s lighting, these events of the past do not stay that way: stepping into the present, a visit from his long-departed wife rekindles their devotion, even as Harry begins to lose himself. To Harry, they are young again. To this world, Harry is still on the frays of ageing – as such is aided by a carer, May, played empathetically by Elicia Daly with flickers of comedy to get May through the day. It’s a rounded performance, demonstrating both the limitations, skillset and dedication of the role without detracting from this being Harry’s tale. But as May improves her signing, the one element Harry had control over, his communication begins to leave him. At times, it’s agonising to watch, yet so beautifully thought-out and constructed.
There’s a benefit to having your writer appear onstage throughout, Meyyappan has an instinctual control and understanding. Their performance is, in truth, outstanding: he’s chipper and cheerful where required and still gives Harry a charm and edge of what makes him sparkle. But Meyyappan doesn’t shirk the pain of it all. The confusion and aggressive outbursts, they’re all here and emboldened by Becky Minto’s magnificent set and David Paul Jone’s original composition which whisks us from genial and nostalgic to sharp and intrusive.
Minto’s set is the production’s tandem asset with Meyyappan’s writing (and performance) and Matthew Lenton’s direction of a superb cast. A trio of mirrors (two-way) enable Harry’s dreams and fragmented thoughts to slip into the stage. But it’s more than this. There’s thought to the spectacle, to the reciprocated viewpoints, the numerous parallels where Harry sits eating alone – contrasted to the image of his younger self (played by Rinkoo Barbaga) having dinner with his soon-to-be wife, who is carried with a sublime serenity by Amy Kennedy.
For just over an hour Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance) manages to level the field for audiences by diversifying an inequality prevailing for decades. Elements of Love Beyond are communicated in both BSL and through vocals, deliberately playing on the frustrations of a deaf man, unable to communicate with his care worker who is desperately trying to catch up with his use of sign language. It’s a genius manoeuvre in highlighting the failure of the industry’s step-up in ensuring equal enjoyment whilst remaining faithful to the story.
Never has a division within the audience been so observant when ripples are able to be ‘in’ on a whole section of the performance, whilst those who cannot employ BSL miss entire responses from Meyyappan’s Harry. But the intention is clear; that’s the brilliance which creates intentional barriers to visualise the ones which already exist, before removing them for significant impact. The writing, like the reflective surfaces, is opaque in ways – and even when left outside of the loop, the audience grasps the nuances of the production with exceptional visual representations and manipulation.
A rare piece of genuine poignancy, Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance) engages with audiences on multiple levels of visual and auditory understanding. Its communication blurs the typical line, intentionally alienating to push a deeper grasp of coping with dementia and the many frustrations aligned with such. With a spectacularly clean, though marvellous creative stage design, Love Beyond (An Act of Remembrance) is grains away from being a stream-lined perfect production.
A Rare Piece of Genuine Poignancy
Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance) runs at the Traverse Theatre until February 11th. It then runs at the Tron Theatre from February 17th – 18th.
The show runs for 1 hour 20 minutes without interval. Suitable for ages 12+. Tickets are available from £14.50 and may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan