Northern Stage, Newcastle –upon-Tyne
Gecko’s particular style of theatre has, I think, absolutely found its moment. Following the critical acclaim accorded to The Overcoat, they have built still further on their trademark interaction of the movement, sound, staging and (a long way down the list) words to create, in Missing, a density of experience that absorbs the viewer almost painfully. It does, however, really require that level of absorption in order to work—drift away for a moment and you’re outside the driving impetus that is the strength of the show.
Before the characters even emerge as characters we are drawn into the sheer stagecraft. A puppet-child, the isolation of memories in (literal) frames, the startling lighting effects and the brilliant sound-design whisk us into a fragmented world where the past clearly impinges on a dissociated present. Lily is both our Everywoman, a sensibly dressed, pass-in-the-street anonymous office-worker, and also a tragic heroine, whose everyday life no longer allows her to plaster over the cracks inside. While her social/personal life can be wordlessly conveyed by a hectically energetic ensemble sequence of movement, involving the set as well as the company, it is when this dissonant normality gives way to more isolated moments and exchanges that the narrative emerges.
The bright booth-like structure of a consulting-room suddenly reduces our focus to one corner of the stage, immediately concentrating all the frenetic energy into a pinpoint of anxiety and doubt. Something is wrong—missing—and a diagnosis calls up the need for a different type of action, where the acceptance of the everyday round must give way to an inward journey, using memory to define causes and explore sorrow.
While this was the most dazzling piece of stage-craft, it did also point up a difficulty perhaps inherent in this style of theatre: some plot points are difficult to grasp via occluded dialogue and oblique imagery. I know that it is Lily’s soul which is in a state of decay, but that’s because I read it in the programme. Forearmed by this information, the imagery of a displaced light made sense. My companion, however, spent some time thinking that Lily was being diagnosed with lung cancer—misreadings are all too easy.
Thereafter the past breaks into Lily’s present with a collage of framed scenes where adults and child move between affection and disruption until we finally track back (in a rather disconcertingly naturalistic scene, complete with dialogue) to the roots of the parental relationship and hence to the point in Lily’s childhood where something began to go missing. Baldly told, this sounds all too obvious, but the delivery is everything, with the story conveyed through all the physical, visual languages the stage offers.
The culmination of the journey is expressed through an echo of gesture that demonstrates to the full how calculated economy can say everything, but this pared down moment of acknowledgement can only work because of the richly-textured production that leads up to it. This isn’t easy theatre, but if nothing is handed to you on a plate, still the experience of surrendering to the compelling broken rhythms of the narrative is profoundly rewarding.
Reviewer: Gail-Nina Anderson