Gecko Theatre sit on the intersection between physical theatre and dance creating a unique fusion which makes their style, often called “Total Theatre”, instantly recognisable. On their website viewers are informed they “strive to make our work wide open to interpretation”. This, I feel, is just as well as it was not always immediately clear to me what the intention of the pieces was …so at least I can review a couple of their shows in the knowledge that I can’t actually be wrong.
The first of the two pieces comes from 2015 and is called The Time Of Your Life; this plays out in the then recently decommissioned BBC Television Centre. It begins with Peter returning to his home to find himself in the middle of a surprise party thrown by his friends. At first, movement seems totally natural but before long a particular rhythm seems to set in and characters start moving in what gradually becomes noticeable as dance steps. Intricately swirling movements start to dominate as Peter becomes more caught up in the moment. Medics in scrubs start to replace the party guests and before we know where (or more importantly when) we are the central character goes through a stylised rebirth and the journey of his life begins. Going into a second room we encounter what is plainly Peter’s parents in the midst of a family celebration – the dance becomes frenzied and joyous but it is time for him to move on. And so Peter passes from room to room and from area to area re-experiencing his past and projecting forward into his future. All the key milestones are there – marriage, the birth of a son, the death of his mother and then his wife – alongside the more prosaic elements of existence – work, dinner parties … there’s even a brief trip to the dentist. Throughout it all the characters whirl breathlessly from one set up to another conjuring up sets and creating instant scenarios. It is mesmerising and conveys just as much, if not more, than the most polished dialogue. And then it all gets very meta – but let’s not give anything away.
The central everyman character is played by Amit Lahav, Gecko’s instigator in chief, and he does so with an increasing air of bewilderment that his life is somehow not his own. The rest of the cast are highly disciplined and literally do not put a foot wrong… and that despite the fact that the video is a live capture in one take. Equal credit must go to the skilled film technicians who somehow manage to keep up with the performers. It is an enjoyable and thought provoking half hour which uses minimal dialogue and maximum movement to convey its message and encouraged me to dig deeper into Gecko’s work.
Institute is an altogether less straightforward affair. It is a rather Kafkaesque scenario and seems to be making many points about male mental health; it left me rather puzzled. In fact, what follows is pure conjecture and I could be completely incorrect though I take heart from the website statement quoted at the top of this review. The scene is set in a rather drab facility where the two central characters, work colleagues Martin and Daniel are undergoing therapy. Martin has been rejected in a relationship and constantly replays it in his mind. Daniel meanwhile has found himself bowed down by the pressures of work – it seems he is an architect – and literally ties himself in knots. Their therapists (if that is what they are) Karl and Louis, seem little better off and as the piece progresses show increasing evidence of their own traumas. Eventually all four men combine in a display of movement which highlights their fragile mental states ….. At least that is what I think is going on.
I’m probably trying to be too literal and find a concrete narrative where none is intended. For, above all, Institute is a piece concerned with mood and this is constantly shifting. In an early sequence we see Martin and Daniel going about their daily routines and the atmosphere is relatively light hearted. The scenes where Louis dresses up as Martin’s rejector are darkly farcical. And towards the end, most disturbingly of all, we see Martin in a nightmare scenario when he seems to have lost the ability to control his own actions; the facility staff manipulate him as they would a rod puppet. It is all quite nightmarish. And as for the end it’s either deeply pessimistic or deeply optimistic – perhaps it’s both.
What is certain, however, is that the four main performers (Chris Evans, Amit Lahav, Ryen Perkins-Gangnes and François Testory) are completely co-ordinated within themselves and with each other. They are in total control even as their characters are falling apart. If you are new, or (as I am) relatively new to this type of performance I’d start with The Time Of Your Life as the more accessible piece before moving on to the lengthier and more challenging Institute. Gecko also has a number of their other past shows available via their You Tube channel if you get bitten by the bug.
Time Of Your Life is on Gecko’s You Tube channel. Click here
Institute is currently on the BBC iPlayer. Click here
To keep up with the blog and all the latest online theatre reviews please click here and choose a follow option
For my Theatre Online list (suggestions and news of newly released productions) please click here. This list is supplemented by daily updates on Twitter (@johnchapman398)