Review: Gecko - Institute - Linbury Studio Theatre, part of London International Mime Festival

Performance: 17 - 20 January 2015
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Monday 19 January 2015

Performance reviewed: 18 January

There’s not really a story as such to follow in Institute, the latest work by Gecko. But that’s par for the course with Amit Lahav’s much-lauded physical theatre company. Instead what we find is a deliriously dense, modernist swirl of ideas, whose loopy absurdist exuberance is anchored by some extraordinarily tight choreography and an intuitive understanding of physical comedy.

We meet Martin (Lahav) and Daniel (Chris Evans) amid an eye-catching set comprised of towering filing cabinets: two mousy clerks caught in a miserable maze of officious bureaucracy, who still, we soon discover, have their own ways of bucking the system, including jazz-dancing their way through their accounting.

Martin obsessively recreates a significant rendezvous with Margaret in an Italian restaurant – the props for which slide out of one of the cabinets. Daniel has a drawer of memories (ingeniously depicted as a file full of moving images he can flick through), among which is his recollection/dream of winning an architecture prize. But in reality he is wracked by doubt to the point of being incapacitated, his limbs so twitchily out of control that his bosses (Francois Testory, speaking only in French) and German Karl (Ryen Perkins-Gangnes) find their attempts to ‘help’ him prove fruitless.

It’s in the sequence where Evans tries to make his way across the stage to complete a work project, with the rest of the four-strong cast creating an elaborate series of obstacles for him, that you really start to appreciate the density, complexity and extraordinary rigour of Lahav’s choreography in this piece – and how clever the mixed-up score is.

It’s also about here that any real logical progression starts to fracture. The overriding theme of Institute is, we’re told in the programme, how we care for each other in our modern-day society, and our reliance on others. Moments such as a joined-hands team-bonding that turns into an exhilaratingly twisty version of Matisse’s The Dance plug into what is an avowedly masculine look at the topic. Institute also clearly and poignantly asks when does ‘caring’ tip into ‘controlling’. But it’s a theme that is quite often subsumed by the wild imagination at play in the piece, which swings from madcap, childlike joy to devastating pathos and is crammed almost to bursting with arresting imagery.

Institute becomes progressively darker – Martin’s imagined dinner dates, played at first with larky good spirits, turn into something gut-wrenching, for instance. Loss, grief, sickness, ageing, madness, death start to weigh heavily. But a closing scene of almost haka-like danced defiance, with the stage bathed in red, is a strong coda to a piece that may have jettisoned any sense of a clear message, but nonetheless gives you plenty to mull on.

Continues at Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House until 20 January (returns only)

Touring to Lighthouse Poole (23 & 24 Jan) and Hall for Cornwall (30 & 31 Jan).

Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, who also contributes to Dancetabs and Time Out. Find her on Twitter @blacktigerlily

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