Institute - Gecko
Created by Amit Lahav
London International Mime Festival 2015
Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House
I might be overstating it a little, but Gecko’s small-scale Institute has something of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Hofesh Shechter’s In Your Rooms, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Pina Bausch about it, whilst being totally and wonderfully itself.
Framed by high-rise filing cabinets (designs Rhys Jarman and Amit Lahav), which compartmentalise and store memories, dreams and nightmares, obsessions and traumas, four fragile men (Chris Evans, Amit Lahav, Ryen Perkins-Gangnes, and Francois Testory) negotiate life to a mixed retro compilation soundtrack.
Music a trigger and a depository for many of our significant moments: "September Song", "Blue Skies", "These Foolish Things", and a special Neapolitan song about the moon and the sea and the blissful time when Martin proposed to Margaret in a cabaret café with red light, red table cloth, and red rose in his hands.
Arrested in this moment, OCD-ing on what went wrong, he is going quietly mad. The other inhibited inmate, office worker Daniel, unable to be the architect of his own life, reaches out a helping hand to Martin, but who supports their therapists Karl and Louis?
German-speaking Karl and French-speaking Louis try various hilarious treatments, on Martin in particular, Louis dressing up as Margaret and speaking Italian, but to little avail. They are all ‘gaga’.
Therapists also have nightmares. Karl’s is not raising Lazarus. In an expressionistic scene framed high at the back of the stage, on repeat, a man falls through, vaporises into, his institute bed. And poor Louis has his own breathing issues—asthma or psychological decline?
One gleans all this from a build up of fractured scenes and body language tics, giveaway signs that all is not well. Funny scenes, that turn troublingly Kafkaesque, expose fearful anxieties, lack of confidence, emotions that many of us will understand.
Reprogramming frozen people into a functional life isn’t easy: manipulated like a puppet, rods for each limb, and a boxer’s soft helmet on his head, Martin still can’t do it.
Oh the baggage we carry around: Daniel inseparable from his little suitcase, Martin from that rose, which gets bigger in his hand. Phobias and building blocks—are they always funny? Better to laugh than cry. What makes Daniel run? Fall and we will catch you. Trust is not easy.
Institutional life, buzzers and alarms, glass boxes, a two-way mirrored room, friend bringing in forbidden goods, inmates rebelling against the system, the pace and tempo a little uneven, as is life, but movement, contact work and sound score (David Price and Nathan Johnson) are beautifully synchronised.
Speak memory, speak body: Institute speaks with compassion and humour about the human condition. The final dance, in a red mist under a red spot (lighting design Chris Swain and Amit Lahav), arms raised high, speaks of triumph of the will or is it a railing at the gods…
Fluid duets and linked-hands quartets, split double scenes, props and sets that pull out of drawers, ingenious all, visual jokes that mix psychosis with dance, with some tightening Institute will be another keeper alongside Missing, The Overcoat, The Arab and the Jew.
Reviewer: Vera Liber