Off Kilter an absorbing look at mental illness

Time is a tyrant in the life of mentally ill character Joe Kilter, played by Ramesh Meyyappan in Off Kilter.
Time is a tyrant in the life of mentally ill character Joe Kilter, played by Ramesh Meyyappan in Off Kilter.PHOTO: NIALL WALKER

The deaf and deft Singaporean actor Ramesh Meyyappan returns with an absorbing look at mental illness

REVIEW / THEATRE

OFF KILTER

TheatreWorks and Tron Theatre 72-13 Wednesday

Everyone loves the fussy antics of Mr Bean, the character created by British actor Rowan Atkinson. But how many wonder how he lives with himself day after day?

That question was the root of this one-man play without speech, written and performed by Ramesh Meyyappan, after watching one of his friends crumple from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Meyyappan, who was born totally deaf, is a Singaporean based in Scotland who has wowed crowds at its Edinburgh Festival Fringe and beyond and has been critically lauded for his creative blend of visual cues, sign language and nuanced, well-timed tics and gestures to shape imagined worlds. This time around, he has Scotsmen Andy Arnold as his director and Douglas Maxwell as his dramaturg.

Meyyappan is Joe Kilter, a salaryman as fastidious as Mr Bean, but with little of the latter's anarchy. Kilter is as plain, prim and proper as the chair, table, waste bin and stack of shelves that make up his home. Everything, from his keys to his shoes, has its place and must be placed just so.

Then one day, a letter lands on his table - literally, as a wire-suspended big, brown envelope is lowered onto the surface. He agonises before ripping it open - and learns he has been fired.

He goes all slouchy and unkempt, caressing and clinging to his work jacket as if it were the corpse of a loved one. He takes to drink and turns delusional: pencils and the letter appear and disappear and the bin is bottomless.

Kudos to Andy Lim for his well-judged lighting, which enhanced the melancholia, although the same could not be said of composer Joel Nah's persistently overt aural expressions.

  • BOOK IT / OFF KILTER

  • WHERE: TheatreWorks, 72-13 Mohamed Sultan Road

    WHEN: Tomorrow, 3pm. All other shows are sold out

    ADMISSION: $35, excludes booking fee, from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Alas, the play's OCD premise is also its Achilles heel.

It is hard to watch someone drum his fingers, polish surfaces and arrange things over and over again, so this play needs its OCD sequences tightened.

It should also limit the sleights of hand, which distract from Kilter's slow-burn disintegration.

The rapt audience in this 60-minute performance was testament to Meyyappan's skills at leavening bitterness with humour. Like Mr Bean at his best, he sashayed to shrilly vibrating alarm clocks, strained to touch his toes and did a Michael Jackson moondance with his fingers.

With editing and more rehearsals, Off Kilter would be a sublime meditation on the mentally ill.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2017, with the headline 'The dark side of Mr Bean'. Print Edition | Subscribe