Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance) is billed as ‘a love story – but not a typical one’. And yet this play, by Ramesh Meyyappan is, like all tales of love and loss, at once unique and ubiquitous, quirky and commonplace.
We meet Harry (Meyyappan) as he moves into a care home. He has dementia, and he’s also deaf. His new carer, May (Elicia Daly), is sweet and attentive, but she doesn’t know sign language, although she is ‘going on a course’. Naturally, Harry’s disorientation is heightened by the pair’s inability to communicate. Matthew Lenton’s skilful direction ensures the audience is drawn in, as those of us who can’t sign miss much of what Harry says, while some of those who are deaf presumably miss May’s words. It’s nicely done: we’re all given enough information to understand what’s going on, while also experiencing a little of Harry’s alienation from his new home, and May’s frustration at not being able to do her job.
The set (by Becky Minto) comprises three moveable screens. At first these are mirrors, magnifying Harry’s discomfort: the reflection of the audience staring at him adds to the sense that he no longer has a private life, or much autonomy at all. Cleverly, the screens are also transparent: lit from behind, they reveal Harry’s jumble of memories. We get to know the young Harry (Rinkoo Barpaga) and his true love, Elise (Amy Kennedy): we see them meet and fall in love; we see their joy and their sorrow, their prime and their decline. There’s something spellbinding about the way these images appear and disappear, and Harry’s yearning for Elise is palpable and heartbreaking.
The strength of this piece lies in the movement, which is precise, slow and beguiling – a realisation of the phrase ‘poetry in motion’. There is a gentle earnestness here that defies cynicism, so that a simple swimming mime becomes a thing of beauty; the act of putting on slippers becomes profound.
Composer David Paul Jones’s soundtrack is integral to the piece. The music is by turns melodic and jarring, light and intense, reflecting Harry’s inner turmoil just as clearly as the mirrors.
This year’s Manipulate Festival has thrown up some absolute gems – and this is one of them.