Missing, Battersea Arts Centre

Lily is an ordinary newlywed with a good job, but something isn’t right. She’s reserved, doesn’t join it at parties or nights out and goes through life disconnected, as if it were a treadmill. With the aid of a mysterious doctor-type figure, Lily relives past memories and important life events. A collage of dance, movement, light and sound, Missing bombards audiences with one character’s family history and rediscovery of her repressed self.

The predominant element of this production is movement. Some sequences have a strong dance influence, others are more abstract, capturing relationship dynamics between two people. Still others are violently fitful as Lily wrestles with parts of herself she would rather forget. Coloured backlighting creates faceless, silhouetted dancers who form the world around Lily. Her movements, in contrast, are usually restrained or awkward, including the duet with her new husband in their marital home as they navigate space with the newfound addition of the other. Memories of her mother, a sensual nightclub dancer, further emphasize how uncomfortable Lily is in her own skin. A particularly striking scene shows Lily at work with her glowing laptop, coffee cup and other daily items that just won’t sit still as she tries to work. They tentatively settle, then fly around the room, always just out of reach. In Lily’s life, everything moves confidently around her and she struggles to keep up. The audience empathizes because like Lily, we all experience moments in life where we feel disconnected from everything around us, as if we live in a grotesque dream world.

Lily decides to see some sort of doctor, a psychologist, perhaps. In a more literal interpretation of the counseling process, he removes a glowing light from her, placing it in a cardboard box. On a further visit, the doctor creates a storyboard of images from Lily’s past and presents them to her without judgement. These events provoke extended memory sequences from Lily’s childhood, with toddler Lily as a bunraku-style puppet. All of her memories take place in glowing frames, with performers behind. The effect created is one is one of large-scale Polaroid photographs that move across the stage. The lighting skillfully conceals the performers holding the frames and the space around them so the frames and their contents appear to float in the darkness. It is a powerful nostalgic effect, akin to watching fragments of one’s own retro ghosts on 1980s VHS home movies.

Two treadmills add a flowing quality to the set and choreography; the performers quickly slide them about to rearrange the stage space and direction of movement through space. Lily is at times caught up in this flow and cannot get off, other times she observes the pace of those around her whilst she herself is not travelling. This is one of the most unique features of the production and one that thoroughly enhances the visual and metaphorical production elements.

Sound is constant or near enough so, either cheerful and musical or a high, droning tone. Dialogue is not an important feature; often the sound drowns out the speakers so that the audience can hear speech but not discern what is being said. Several languages are used: German, Spanish, English and others. None of them is predominant, but the language is not the focus of this piece and it is easy to discern what is happening from the movement. The speech often adds another layer to the soundscape, enhancing the universality of Lily’s inner turmoil.

Missing is a feast of the senses and I struggle to find fault with any visual aspect of the production, though I would have liked to get to know the characters in more detail. The episodic, dreamlike structure leaves the story open to interpretation and to personally connect with several themes and issues presented.

I went with the year 10 GCSE Drama students at the school where I teach part time. Most of the students go to the theatre regularly but none of them had seen anything like Gecko’s Missing before. Each of them had their own interpretation of the production, further proof that Gecko’s work speaks to each of us on a deeply personal level.

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