Reviewer: Jocelyn Chng
Performance: 14 October 2017
Prior to this full-staging, Rameseh Meyyappan’s Off Kilter was shown at TheatreWorks in May 2017 as a work-in-progress. After a staging at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow also in May, it makes its return to Singapore.
A trained mime artist, Meyyappan’s (who is also hearing-impaired) strength lies unquestionably in the arresting quality of his movements. In Off Kilter, this is apparent from near the start of the solo performance, when even a movement as small as his fingers “walking” across a table is so precise that I feel I can sit and watch that movement for a good fifteen or twenty minutes.
Regrettably, it is around that time into the performance that things start to peter off. Dramaturgically, Off Kilter can be tighter and may benefit from a more varied emotional journey.
The incessant, monotonous ticking sound effects, repetitive actions, and bizarre occurrences do conjure up the emotional state of someone suffering from mental illness; effective even to the point of evoking in me a sense of intense frustration. However, the emotional trajectory remains about the same throughout, making it difficult for an audience to sustain interest for the whole 60-minute performance.
Meyyappan’s previous works, such as Butterfly and Snails and Ketchup, made use of staging elements that were inherently very dramatic (puppetry and aerial choreography respectively). In Off Kilter, he has chosen to incorporate the element of illusion instead. Unfortunately, this choice proves to be underwhelming – the first time it happens there is a moment of novelty, but beyond that it starts to feel gimmicky.
Additionally, while it is apparent that much research on mental health and mental illness has gone into this work, I have reservations about how this research has been incorporated. The character indulges in obsessive cleaning and has a concern with arranging things, traits commonly associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but these are shown mostly in the earlier half of the performance. Then the character also experiences symptoms of depression (fatigue, trouble concentrating or making decisions) and schizophrenia (experiencing hallucinations). Selecting the most recognisable traits of each disorder and including them without a clearer overarching link makes the treatment of mental illness come across as tokenistic.
This is not to say that this work is not a relevant one; on the contrary, it is highly relevant, especially in Singapore where discussing mental illness, an issue fraught with misconceptions, is still seen as taboo for many people. Very aptly, Off Kilter is presented right after World Mental Health Day (on 10 October). If anything, Meyyappan has forced open a window into the dark world in which sufferers of mental illness live on a daily basis, and this is surely a valuable start.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
OFF KILTER by TheatreWorks
11 – 14 October 2017
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jocelyn holds a double Masters in Theatre Studies/Research. She is a founding member of the Song and Dance (SoDa) Players – a registered musical theatre society in Singapore. She is currently building her portfolio career as an educator and practitioner in dance and theatre, while pursuing an MA in Education (Dance Teaching).