Say your only close friends are people you work with. Can you trust them to help you out if you’re struggling with your health? Martin’s mental health is deteriorating, so Daniel, Louis and Karl try their best to care for him despite their own inner demons and needing to be looked after as well. With a distinctive physical vocabulary and a masculine camaraderie, Gecko’s Institute is an absorbing look at a society made of lonely, needy people without the safety net that family can provide.
Rhys Jarman and Amit Lahav’s deceptively simple set of Victorian wooden filing cabinets is loaded with the possibility of discovery and serves as a convenient place for the characters to store their memories, good and bad. The moments that new items are revealed are a wonderfully surprising juxtaposition to the hulking, boxy structures. Lahav and Chris Swain’s lighting design dark and atmospheric, sharpened by the addition of otherwise unnecessary smoke. Both serve the choreography well, without drawing too much attention onto the design.
Lahav also directs this devised piece, and performs as Martin. Considering he is also the artistic director of the company, it is a true marvel, and a testament to his talent, that none of his production roles suffer. He seemlessly incorporates multiple languages and regular movement sequences that are tightly choreographed and emotive expressions of his characters. The characters puppeteering of each other is a powerfully visualised (and sometimes sinister) metaphor of helplessness at the hands of external forces and the support that peers can offer – or not offer. It’s a visually arresting comment on the support and limitations of others on our individual lives.
The strong sense of brotherhood imbedded in the choreography is a lovely thing to witness. There’s a physical comfort the performers have with each other that blends with the characterisation, making the moments where they treat each other badly all the more shocking. The single female character, Martin’s imaginary girlfriend Margaret, is inventively shown, through costume and movement, but her appearance in a plastic cube is anticlimactic. The whole piece starts to feel too long towards the end, though none of the scenes are gratuitous.
Institute is typical Gecko fare, but the character’s relationships and externalised emotions are the finest features in this physical theatre performance. It’s some of best, most reliable physical theatre work out there at the moment, and Gecko retain the ability to surprise as well as showcase their unique theatrical language.
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