This tight-as-a-nut, hour-long, one-man show follows a nameless, silent protagonist (Ramesh Meyyappan), as the arrival of a mysterious letter at his home heralds the encroachment of an anxiety and an unhappiness that threaten to throw his carefully-ordered everyday world entirely off-kilter.
A brilliant physical performer, Meyyappan’s control and expressiveness of movement are magnetic, and he emanates a warmth and humour that constantly invites empathy. His previous work – 2015’s Butterfly – used movement to simulate the steadily destructive spiral of grief; in Off-Kilter, he simulates the shock of a body constantly flooded by adrenaline with mismatched, jerking movements, twitching fingers and nervous bursts of speed and stillness.
Mirroring this jangling central performance, Meyyappan’s cheeky use of close magic – designed by illusionist Kevin McMahon – and some brilliant tricks from the stage management team underscore the unnerving world Meyyappan’s increasingly disorientated protagonist finds himself in. Director Andy Arnold make the most of every minute in furthering the narrative, his direction tight and lucid, yet still leaving space for Meyyappan’s ideas to sink in and develop. There is a lovely low-key moment of audience involvement that plays like a gut-punch, acknowledging that the nameless, nervous character on-stage, trapped in the midst of his own mental purgatory, could easily be any one of us.
Despite being entirely wordless, and existing in a world where rules of time and space find themselves increasingly bent and broken, Off-Kilter‘s narrative is nearly always clear. Only in its final moments does it become a little clouded, Meyyappan’s performance overtaken by some clumsy symbolism.
Devoid of words and unconstrained by time and space, physical theatre is a natural conduit for exploring ideas of anxiety, dislocation and unknowing. But it’s easy to understand an audience’s reticence. Considering the twin turn-offs of performance art and mental health issues, Off-Kilter could seem an entirely intimidating proposition on paper. However, the warmth and humour of Meyyappan and of Arnold’s production ensures that – unlike the stricken man on-stage – the audience never feel isolated, or alone. Beautifully successful.
Off-Kilter was at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, until May 13th. For more details, click here.