>mistero buffo and a woman alone by ramesh meyyappan

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date:16 aug 2002
>time: 8 pm
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Ramesh Meyyappan said in an e-interview with the Inkpot that his goal was to make the audience laugh. There was no question about that. From the moment he stepped onstage for his first piece, the wildly comic MISTERO BUFFO, he had the audience eating from the palm of his hand. To many in the audience, some of whom were also hearing-impaired, it was the return of a local hero from training in the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts and overseas festival stints; for others, like myself, it was simply an opportunity to witness a master at work and make no mistake about it: though still relatively young, Ramesh has been working in the arts for the past 8 years and is one of the most respected young performers of physical theatre in Singapore.

For this is a man whose rubbery Jim Carrey face and clownish Mr Bean antics may well bring in the laughs in this rich and colourful piece of visual theatre that combined aspects of physical theatre, mime and Commedia Dell'Arte, but more than that, this is a man who is clearly very practised in the Craft (I'm using a capital C here because it just seems like it needs one) of his work. When you watch him, every second of the way you are aware that what he does, while requiring a natural disposition to humour and movement, is studied and fundamentally steeped in years of training. This is tomfoolery that requires more than a mere fool named erm, Tom, gurning and prancing around like a jackass. This is no TV Mobile 'Just For Laughs'.

Nowhere is this more evident than in his ability to take on a variety of characters in the first piece of this one-man double-bill - from bumbling drunkard, Mr Buffo, to a self-righteous, pompous angel; from a sadistic pope to Jesus Christ, miracle-worker. He whirls and twirls and morphs into characters that are always different and distinct yet always hilarious and accessible. It is also to the credit of both Meyyappan and his co-creator Karen Myktyn that they have been able to take the dense text of Dario Fo's original and craft it into a coherent narrative without the use of any words at all, and still be able to capture some of the sting of Fo's satire and indictment of society, especially religious hypocrisy.

>>'Meyyappan - a kid at heart, a kid at play but also an adult craftsman with impeccable comic timing and a charisma that allows him to fill the stage'

However, whereas with MISTERO BUFFO, it has to be said that this sting is ultimately largely blunted by the onslaught of laughs and that, really, no one will think for a moment that laughter is anything but the raison d'etre of this adaptation, it is their interpretation of Franca Rame's A WOMAN ALONE that really shows the capacity of not just Meyyappan but also the art form itself to drive powerful truths and messages home to the audience.

In this second piece, the humour of the original has been totally excised and is represented not only as a dramatic piece but, in a sense, a mystery or a thriller as well. In a move that adds a particularly twisted poignancy to the narrative, Meyyappan plays the part of a woman whose entire existence consists of an abusive relationship with a possessive husband, the drudgery of household chores, a passionate affair with a young boy and constant harassment from a sexual pervert watching the house. These aspects of her life are represented in stock actions - face turned as the woman is slapped, rounded fingers over eyes to represent binoculars, hands over breasts and groin as her modesty is outraged - which reveal a lot without going into specifics and these are then repeated for is not one of the greatest abuses thrust upon this woman the repetitive nature of her hum-drum existence?

Watching MISTERO BUFFO and A WOMAN ALONE, one cannot help but be impressed and inspired by Meyyappan, a kid at heart, a kid at play but also an adult craftsman with impeccable comic timing and a charisma that allows him to fill the stage as well as wrap himself around you during the audience interaction segments like an old friend. With A WOMAN ALONE, Meyyappan also showed his capacity to be a fine actor, full stop - not merely a fine physical actor or, indeed, a deaf one.

In October, our lucky friends in Stockholm will get to experience the show which has already been taken across Europe and America. I, for one, will be proud that this is what they will know of Singapore theatre.