I have known performer/visual director Ramesh Meyyappan since 2004, when I saw his non-verbal physical theatre adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart at The SubStation in Singapore. Since then our paths have continually crossed – at DaDaFest in Liverpool in 2005 shortly after he relocated to the UK, at the Vienna Deaf Theatre Festival around 2006, where I was presenting a paper on my work and was able to participate in his performance workshop. Over the years we have continued to meet, building a friendship and an appreciation of each others’ work. I’ve longed to work with Ramesh since I first saw him on the stage thirteen years ago…. and finally it is happening, in a project which unites the place where we first met with the place we now live.
Ramesh is a performer and visual theatre director for my Unlimited International Commission And Suddenly I Disappear: The Singapore ‘d’ Monologues
I am immensely excited about his involvement in this ambitious project, an international dialogue about disability, Deaf experience, diversity, and difference, from opposite sides of the world. I will be writing future blogs reflecting on our process – it is complex, a multi-layered project involving grassroots engagement and research. My collaborators Peter Sau and Lee Lee Lim, plus other members of the Singapore team are amassing material from interviews which are inspiring the fictional monologues I am writing. Time is short… We will soon be combining the UK and Singapore teams, collaborating in September to present r&d sharings at Centre 42 in Singapore.
This project has allowed me to indulge in playing ‘fantasy cast’…. Once I knew Ramesh was on-board, I knew I had to bring him together with Sophie Stone, a long-term collaborator who I have written parts for in my Unlimited Commission/National Theatre Wales 2012 production In Water I’m Weightless and Kirstie Davis’s production for Forest Forge Woman of Flowers (2014). I also suspected that these two innovative artists wanted to work together – so to be able to bring them together at our initial exploratory workshop at The Llanarth Group’s T’y’n-y-Parc Studio in beautiful west Wales was a dream.
Unfortunately owing to other work commitments, Sophie is not able to travel to Singapore with us in mid September, so we were sure to capture her presence through the project’s filmmaker, Paul Whittaker. The project will combine live camera, pre-recorded material with live action, so it was excellent to film Sophie so she can join us in the r&d as a mediatised presence.
This initial weekend of exploration in early August 2017 enabled me to try out emerging material and experiment with multiple languages. Completing the company was director Phillip Zarrilli and performers Grace Khoo, and Sara Beer.
I had given text to the company to translate or reinvent in different languages in advance of our workshop: Sara into Welsh, Grace into Mandarin, and Sophie BSL and visual language, Together with Ramesh using Singapore Sign Language, we layered five spoken and visual languages together, resting on the baseline of English.
One of the monologues – ‘What Not To Say To A Person Who Is Depressed’ – was explored as an ensemble, simultaneously cutting between BSL, Welsh, English, Mandarin, and ‘Singlish’ – a variety of English spoken in Singapore incorporating Chinese and Malay. I began to appreciate the possibilities of humour as well as poignancy in this multilingual experimentation.
It was a phenomenally creative weekend, experimenting with multiple languages and form. Ramesh started creating a physical ensemble piece, responding to texts I had sent him and some extracts from some of our research interviews, and we had a chance to discover collaborative modes.
Sophie will of course be hugely missed when we gather in Singapore in a month’s time – but at least we will have her digitally….. and I can’t wait to get the full company together to start this creative and cultural dialogue.
Commissioned and supported by Unlimited, celebrating the work of disabled artists, with funding from Arts Council of Wales and British Council.