MimeLondon: Ramesh Meyyappan and George Mann on Last Rites

Ramesh Meyyappan and George Mann. Photo: Camilla Adams

Ramesh Meyyappan and George Mann have joined me from their rehearsal space following a morning where they have been working through the ending of their new production, Last Rites.

“The show isn’t finished just yet,” signs Meyyappan who is communicating in sign language through a BSL interpreter, Pascale Maroney, who is translating his words

“We literally started with a blank page,” adds the Glasgow-based Singaporean theatre-maker as he talks about how he and Mann have developed the show from an idea into the finished form that will play at MimeLondon and Edinburgh’s Manipulate Festival early next year.

The production is presented by the Bristol-based theatre company Ad Infinitum where Mann is the Co-Artistic Director, alongside his partner Nir Paldi, and has been co-devised by Mann and Meyyappan.

“We knew we wanted to do something with this theme. We were both talking about our fathers, our relationship with our fathers, what happens when we become fathers… how it affects you,” Meyyappan says.

Ramesh Meyyappan in Last Rites. Photo: Camilla Adams

There were parallels between Meyyappan and Mann’s experiences; they are both fathers and had both lost their own fathers.

However, there were divergences in their experiences as a result of their different backgrounds and situations. There was the religious aspect, Meyyappan is Hindu whereas Mann was raised as a Roman Catholic, and the fact that Meyyappan is Deaf while Mann is hearing.

But even within the differences, there were similarities in their experiences. “My lived experience isn’t as a Deaf man, but… there were certain things that I wanted to speak to my father about before he died and he refused. So, we had the communication barrier but just in a completely different way,” Mann reflects.

There was still a commonality in the relationships they had with their fathers too. “Though [Mann and his father] had a shared language, they still had conflict, and I had conflict with my father,” says Meyyappan.

Those conversations and experiences inspired what the show has become. The story at the heart of the play follows a Deaf father who is travelling to see his own father, who is dying in India.

“We’re dealing with these three generations. We’re looking at what it means to be a parent, and in particular a father, and what we choose to pass on – or don’t pass on… how we can do things differently?” Mann says, adding, “I guess it’s about trauma and healing as well.”

Photo of actor Ramesh
Meyyappan in the rehearsal
room. He is standing in the
centre of a grey mat with his
arms raised in front of him.
Ramesh Meyyappan in the rehearsal room. Photo: Camilla Adams

Though there are elements of their experiences within the play, it’s not autobiographical. “In real life my father was great,” Meyyappan says, even if there are “elements of him in the show.”

They both agree there have been times when it has been emotional to work through the themes of the show, even with that distance between their personal experiences and the events of the play.

As they’ve been working through the play’s conclusion Mann reflects that it was “very hard to stay removed… because it immediately provokes memories and their response.”

Both men are keen that this doesn’t reflect just their own experiences, feeling it was important to ask questions about what they were doing; “How is this relevant to an audience? How is this going to be interesting for them?” says Mann.

The play’s universal themes mean it is accessible to a broad audience but the framing of the themes allows them to be explored in new ways, adding something fresh and new. “I think there’s something interesting about tackling universal themes from a minority standpoint,” Meyyappan signs.

“The audience gets to think about them in a different way instead of it just being hearing normative, heteronormative, or whatever… they see the humanity, they connect with the character and feel what they feel but through a different lens.”

Ramesh Meyyappan lies on the ground with his legs in the air and arms raised as if he has fallen
Ramesh Meyyappan in Last Rites. Photo: Camilla Adams

When they present the finished product at MimeLondon in January it will be Mann’s third time taking a show to the festival. It’s exciting, he says to be involved in a new phase of MimeLondon, which was previously London International Mime Festival.

“I’m really appreciative of their support as well, because finding organisations that support this type of work is rare, especially in this country…so they’re real supporters of a type of work that I love.” He’s also interested in what it will be like to present the work at Manipulate Festival, in what is his first time bringing a piece to the festival.

Meyyappan’s experience is the flip to Mann’s, having been involved in Manipulate Festival previously but not MimeLondon. He says it’s “a dream” to perform at MimeLondon, given that they’re working together on Last Rites, “really lovely that it will be the first time for me in London and then the first time for George in Edinburgh.”

And Meyyappan has hopes that there will be benefits for the London festival. “Hopefully it brings more deaf, Deaf and hard of hearing people into MimeLondon, given the large deaf, Deaf and hard of hearing community in London, and provides more opportunities for deaf, Deaf and hard of hearing creatives to perform.”

Last Rites is at Shoreditch Town Hall from 24 to 27 February as part of MimeLondon 2024 and at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh from 3 to 4 February as part of Manipulate Festival.

Follow our entire MimeLondon festival coverage here.