Formed back in 2001, Gecko has since presented six shows, each one a technically intricate thing. Their most recent was the intoxicating Missing and here they have decided once again to veer away from conventional story-telling: Institute is a bold, bruising multi-narrative piece that takes its audience on four hallucinogenic journeys.
The two main “stories” tell of Martin, who is looking to make final contact with his lover Margaret, and of Daniel, who is engaged in a day-to-day battle with capitalism. Ambiguity is Gecko’s forte and instead of presenting a straight-forward tale of two men preparing for heartbreak and failure, they immerse us in fusion of dance, physical theatre, combat and human puppetry. Rhys Jarman and Gecko Artistic Director Amit Lahav’s set is one of towering filing cabinets surrounding a black-sea sprung floor, with only a thin walkway running around the outside of this space. From these cabinets, which are seemingly Narnian in depth, entire scenes emerge, as the performers pull draws out to reveal office desks, restaurant tables and hospital curtains.
This is a piece founded upon tenderness. The four men constantly break away from the narrative to engage in breathtaking dance fragments, everything from arabesques to no-handed rolls. At times, it’s like peering into a Dojo, martial and muscular, but the production is also full of grace and precision. There are moments very reminiscent of Pina Bausch as these men’s memories are brought to life.
Dave Price’s music alongside Chris Swain and Lahav’s ravishing lighting come together to create a lush, cosmic atmosphere full of shafts of smoky light, a world of lucid fantasy that is as gorgeously elliptical as it is liberating.
The production is playful but somehow nightmarish at the same time, Chaplin crossed with Orwell. It has fun with its audience while also provoking. Lahav’s characters console each other as much as they confront: are they enemies or comrades? They speak a variety of languages, which not only distorts our understanding of their relationship, but suggests that these themes transcend straightforward dialogue. This is a mature and richly imaginative piece, a meditation on ritual – from the stuffiness of the workplace to primal need for intimacy.
While Missing was, on occasion, overwhelming and over-sensory, unwilling to let up and back off and let us absorb its individual moments. Institute gives its audience more space to think. There are enough moments of calm to avoid the feeling of being bombarded but not too many to impact on the pacing of the piece. At its best, Institute is a piece of physical and visual theatre capable of swallowing you whole. It asks you to trust it, to give yourself to it. And it’s all the more potent, all the more hypnotic, if you’re able to do it, if you let it take you.