Artistic Director: Amit Lahav
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Founded in 2001, Gecko is an award-winning physical theatre company led by Artistic Director Amit Lahav, who remains a compelling central devising performer within the company’s diverse range of work.
Institute, their latest show, has been two years in the making and is a careful and detailed examination of the ways we care for ourselves and each other, with a particular focus on men, their differing relationships with themselves and one another in work, relationships and institutions, inevitably drawing attention to issues of men’s mental health and well-being. Women are more likely to suffer common mental health problems such as anxiety or depression but men are three times more likely to take their own lives, largely due to the lack of opportunity to be open about their feelings, and the fear of appearing weak or ‘unmanly’.
If that makes Institute sound like a worthy and weighty trawl through difficult material, then it is, and yet it isn’t. Gecko have proven themselves to be a hugely innovative and entertaining theatre company in the past and that certainly doesn’t fail them here. The darkness of the material is fully illuminated by humour, clever pacing and staging, and physical choreography and performances that delight even as the gut punches start to hit.
Institute occupies a dystopian world primarily of work, the complex set design of doors and filing cabinets by Rhys Jarman and Amit Lahav representing the compartmentalised lives men lead. A world of colleagues and friends, managers, fathers and sons and carers. The narrative, which is progressively looping rather than linear, centres on two colleagues – Martin and Daniel – and their sinister managers/carers. Memories and aspirations and ambitions and relationships spill from the cabinets, tormenting and increasingly overwhelming them. The show explores through dance and physical comedy the seeming inability of men to meaningfully communicate on a personal level outside the tropes of everyday behaviour and communication, demonstrating the ways men lack the verbal and physical language to connect and care for themselves or one another, meaning they often reject the contact –physical and emotional – that they crave and require.
The four devising performers – Lahav, Chris Evans, Ryen Perkins-Gangnes and François Testory – are exceptional, managing to deliver detailed acting, humour and energetic expressive choreography and movement that is rich with evidence of Evans’ long and continuing involvement with Hofesh Shechter.
Gecko consistently manages to create work that fully combines narrative drama, comedy, dance and physical theatre and Institute is no exception. Set design, props, highly effective lighting design by Chris Swain and Lahav, original music (Dave Price) and sound design (Nathan Johnson) plus some clever music choices come together with the carefully crafted material and performances and movement to create a perfect storm of dark, richly entertaining and thought-provoking European theatre of the highest quality.
Runs until 22 October 2016 | Image: Richard Houghton