Gin and Tonic and Passing Trains

Spike Theatre and Ramesh Meyyappan
Unity Theatre (25th-26th September 2008)

Reviewed by Megan Agnew

Inventive and provoking, Ramesh Meyyappan’s silent re-interpretation of Dickens’ haunting short story The Signalman is a brilliant piece of visual theatre, which remains faithful to the Dickensian preference for suspense and fantastic characterisation.

Meyyappan’s characterisation is both simple and specific. Paying attention to minute detail and - it seems - employing every face muscle at least once during the play, he brings life to a dull existence. The audience feels the signalman’s joy at sipping a warming cup of tea. We shudder at the bats above his head. We sway when he gets drunk. As he makes the dull signal box his own - fighting with the unfriendly light bulb in the process - we sense the excitement he initially feels when carrying out his duties.

The lonely years take their toll on the signalman and he faces an existence with not very much to do. The constant ringing of bells and the noise of trains rushing past leaving no presence behind for comfort eventually drives him to the bottle. Life, it seems, rushes by with every passing train and Meyyappan slows that time down for the audience to explore. Fuelled by drink he envisions premonitions and spirits, which it later becomes clear are prophecies of his own death.

Meyyappan explores the emotional journey of one man’s struggle, and one lonely life’s impossibility of surviving. The line between what the signalman imagines and what actually happens is hazy – mimicked in the delivery of the play through the compelling use of mime. His talent for creating surroundings and images and characters where there are none is extremely compelling. He becomes both the objects, the character, and also creates the world they inhabit. A vibrant and mesmerising performance.

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