RAMESH Meyyappan is one of the most distinctive and acclaimed theatre-makers working in Scotland today. The creator of such beautiful works as Butterfly and Off-Kilter, the dramatist – who hails originally from Singapore – is a Deaf artist and performer who specialises in a powerful and stylish line in physical and visual theatre.

It is appropriate, then, that his latest work, Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance) should be directed by Matthew Lenton of celebrated visual theatre specialists Vanishing Point. Indeed, the piece (which has its world premiere performances next Friday and Saturday at the Manipulate festival in Edinburgh) is co-produced by Vanishing Point and the excitingly ambitious Scottish arts company Raw Material.

The play takes as its subject the devastating impact of dementia upon deaf people. Its central character, Old Harry – who is Deaf and suffering with dementia – is played by Meyyappan himself.

There are three other characters in the drama, namely: the nurse (performed by longstanding Vanishing Point collaborator Elicia Daly), Young Harry (played by Rinkoo Barpaga) and Harry’s wife (played by Amy Kennedy). The action takes place in the here and now, in which Harry is living in a hospice receiving end-of-life care.

The National: The new play looks at the impact of dementia on deaf peopleThe new play looks at the impact of dementia on deaf people (Image: Nicola Watson)

However, the play also takes us back (courtesy of the titular “act of remembrance”) to the early days of the relationship between Harry and his now-deceased wife.

It is a story that embraces the anguish of an elderly Deaf person losing his capacity to communicate by means of sign language. Yet, as Harry’s short-term memory diminishes, his long-term memory comes to the fore (as is so often the case in people with dementia), bringing the romance of his early life flooding back to his mind.

“I’ve always been interested in human experience and I’ve always wanted to tell stories that are available to both a Deaf and a hearing audience,” Meyyappan tells me when we meet during rehearsals at the headquarters of the National Theatre of Scotland.

“This is the show that will have a different perspective if you’re a Deaf person in the audience.”

Meyyappan hopes there will be a particular power, especially for Deaf people, in the show’s imaginative exploration of the condition of being Deaf and also having dementia.

“This has happened to friends of mine,” he says. “As I get older, I’m seeing it more and more. I just didn’t know anything about it.

“I was like ‘whoa! What happens if you’re Deaf and you have dementia?’ Obviously, if you’re hearing and you have dementia, there’s a community of support around that.

“But, from a Deaf community perspective, there’s not a lot out there. So, it started to become a really important topic that I wanted to explore.”

Meyyappan’s exploration of this important subject led him to conversations with two leading, Deaf experts in the field. One is Avril Hepner, British Sign Language (BSL) Scotland manager for the British Deaf Association. The other is Dr Emma Ferguson-Coleman, who is, the dramatist explains, “the first Deaf person in the UK who has researched Deafness and dementia”.

Learning from these professionals about real-life stories of Deaf people with dementia left a deep impression on Meyyappan.

“To be honest, it left me heartbroken,” he says.

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In the play, as dementia takes its toll on Harry, we “watch [his ability to communicate in BSL] shrink until it becomes small and, then, is lost completely.”

The cruelty of a Deaf person losing their capacity to communicate in sign language struck Meyyappan as a very potent and emotive subject for theatre, both for hearing members of the audience and, particularly, for Deaf people. In the piece, there is a very deep and personal grief for Harry in the diminution of his language.

In expressing that anguish, the dramatist drew upon two very painful experiences of grief of his own: one being the loss of his father, the other the death of his baby, Jack, which, he says, “broke” his wife and himself.

Although there is immense sadness in this narrative, there is, as the show’s title Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance) suggests, also an uplifting, humanistic dimension.

This will come as no surprise to those who know Meyyappan’s work. Few dramatists have the Scots-Singaporean’s gift for profound, human empathy.

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There is, the theatre-maker comments, “so much love” in the piece. We see this in Harry’s memories of the romance of his youth.

We see it, too, in the efforts Harry’s nurse makes to learn his language. This also has an autobiographical aspect for Meyyappan.

When he and his wife began dating in Singapore, she had no sign language. Her commitment to learning the dramatist’s language (which, at that time, was American Sign Language) was an expression of love.

Following its world premiere in Edinburgh (at the Traverse Theatre), Love Beyond transfers to the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, a venue with which Meyyappan has had a long and fruitful artistic association.

More than most theatre-makers in Scotland, he has reason to be concerned by the recent announcement that Glasgow City Council would (for the first time in more than 30 years) not be funding the Tron.

“I was saddened to learn of the Tron’s funding cut by Glasgow City Council,” the dramatist says. “I’m aware that times are tough, requiring tough decisions, but why does it always seem that the arts are the first to feel the pain of funding cuts?”

Meyyappan is full of praise for the support he has received, as a Deaf artist, from the Tron and its artistic director Andy Arnold. He is “proud”, he says, to be an associate artist of the Tron.

“It worries me,” he continues, “how the Tron will continue to sustain being a prominent theatre venue with the constraints now being placed on its funding.”

Love Beyond (Act of Remembrance) plays the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, February 10 and 11, transferring to Tron Theatre, Glasgow, February 17 and 18: rawmaterialarts.com With thanks to sign language interpreter Amy Cheskin