If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what is the value of a gesture? Off Kilter (until 13th May, Tron Theatre) is a remarkable experience. It is an entirely non-verbal piece, apart from the printed envelopes complete with letter that are laid out on each audience member’s seat, left alone until our protagonist Joe Kilter opens his own, a different take on engendering audience empathy. Ramesh Meyyappan instead uses his body and facial expressions, as well as a deceptively simple but malleable set and minor costume changes, to convey the turmoil that Joe’s precise way of life is thrown into. Off Kilter wastes no time in showing how a life that runs by clockwork can be so easily disrupted, perhaps irrevocably, drawing upon the anxiety and anguish that comes from a life change that is delivered, not chosen, but presenting it in a darkly comic way that enhances these themes rather than flippantly detract from them.
At times, the movement is so joyously mind-blowing that Off Kilter feels like a magic show for adults, even though its subject is essentially mundane. Words really don’t do justice to Meyyappan’s ability, which is apt, as he doesn’t use dialogue, instead drawing upon his remarkable skill physically to create a character and take them on a journey. The Tron Theatre has a reputation for programming not only challenging theatre but also accessible theatre. At the end of the show, Meyyappan thanks the audience in sign language, and from the different expressions of applause, both sonic and signed, it’s evident that a large proportion of the audience are hearing impaired. It’s a testament to the Tron’s diverse programming commitments that they can provide great theatre that in no way feels patronisingly specific to a certain group or issue, instead focusing on the talent that can tell stories in striking ways.
There is a story but I don’t want to give details because it is a slight one, best shown rather than told. However, there is a sense that more could have been made of the structure, as the majority of time is spent within one reaction. A deepening one that progresses into darker territory, yes – but there’s little time spent with Joe prior to the incident that undoes him to really understand his descent, whilst the resolution is so swift as to almost not be registered at all. Those looking for a satisfying story may be disappointed but nonetheless Meyyappan’s performance and production design are staggeringly effective at externalising such an internal experience that many of us will go through at one point or another. This is essential viewing for budding and current set designers, actors and dancers to see a movement genius in their element.
Photos courtesy of Niall Walker.
Off Kilter runs at the Tron Theatre until Sat 13th May and more information can be found here.