Institute is a performance without a centre; it circumnavigates, teases and plays with remembrance, power and the other in an architectural labyrinth of filing cabinets and memories on repeat. Nothing is fixed in the show – meaning escapes and hides and runs away, only to come back more concretely. It emanates from dialogues we almost recognise, a place we seem to identify and a narrative that isn’t quite gelling enough. Bathed in and concerned by nostalgia, Institute is a coagulation of movement, scenography and power-plays, questioning the ways in which our past becomes its own bureaucracy.
The stage is split by a series of towering filing cabinets that open to reveal different spaces: an intimate dining scene in a restaurant, red tablecloth and soft lighting, a workspace, walls packed with clipboards and notes, or a chronology of someone’s memories, organised in a shelf. At times, these spaces become sites of confrontation – the denied break-up, the anxious curiosity of repetition and return.
Four men navigate this strange space in which labour, remembrance and memory are inherently tied together. They re-enact scenes for each other, they attempt to intervene in these stories without closure, to part each other from memories that are swallowing them up. In the meantime, they are constructing something, and failing to even near completion.
The architectural and the nostalgic are central modes through which Institute fractures its stories and navigates across so many different kinds of environments and landscapes. The scenography itself divides and re-configures the space, but it also cuts through time, playing with a chronology that isn’t quite clear to our gaze. Reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or Kafka’s The Castle, the aesthetics of the show pervade different eras, as does the soundtrack – inviting us into our own process of association and recall.
Amit Lahav, Chris Evans, Ryen Perkins-Gangnes and Francois Testory perform with sharpness and a penchant for stylisation; movement here doesn’t serve a narrative, it performs its own atmospheres and relationships. It speaks of the body in this landscape of memories, of the traps of trust and the necessity of reliance; of misinterpretation and disconnection.
As with Missing, Gecko’s show about a woman recalling events in her life, Institute is built on precarity and power. The four men gripped by their own histories attempt to support each other in gaining some form of release from the past, but illness, lack of understanding, longing get in the way. Institute forms questions about distance and compartmentalisation, without a clear grounding – we are as lost in its world as the characters contained by it.
In some ways, Institute is also a timid show; it deliberately attempts to communicate without committing fully to specificity. This means that aspects of the story remain inconclusive, but also generic. Dramaturgically, the show is ghostly, imprecise. Several languages are used, sometimes to the effect of caricature, but also at the expense of characters; archetypes return often to the stage, merely as contours of identities. On the other hand, this search for the authentic experience of a memory is very much at the heart of the show, which speaks of over-saturation and confusion.
Institute is a show of beautiful narrative splinters whose visual and physical language contort onstage to examine personal history and camaraderie as both destructive and powerful. It probes questions about performance and its registers, about representation and contouring, but is also rich in atmosphere and probing in tone.