Thursday 13 November 2014

Theatre Review: Institute at Bristol Old Vic

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews

Gecko’s latest creation deals with the stuff of life itself. Institute is a raw, heart-rending, high energy exploration into the triumphs and despair of the human condition, encapsulated in a Kafkaesque world of unfathomable filing cabinets.
Each of the four performers within Institute has their own story to tell, but don’t expect a clear narrative; instead there’s a stream of consciousness in dance form, layers of meaning stretched taut by incredible physicality. There are echoes of Salvador Dali’s surrealist picture City of Drawers here, a body full of secrets waiting to be unlocked.
Amit Lahav directs and appears as Martin in this, Gecko’s sixth show in ten years. He has a rendezvous with Margaret; the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet opens to reveal a lamp-lit table and chairs, together with a pair of disembodied hands representing his beloved. It seems he’s all set for a romantic evening, until flashing red lights and harsh buzzers transport him back to the everyday.
Margaret remains a shape-shifting illusion, an ever-receding fantasy which Martin ends up carrying on his back. It’s his co-worker Daniel who proves to be his greatest source of fellow-feeling; their tightly sequenced dance culminating in a hilarious office meeting. They have become each other’s ticket to surviving the mundane and meaningless ritual of bureaucracy.
Martin and Daniel may be the employees or patients of Louis and his assistant Karl; like so much this is never really clear. The fragmented profusion of spoken English, French and German emphasizes their difficulty in finding a common understanding, yet each has an impulse to catch their fellow human being as they writhe in disjointed agony. Support is provided by crutches and ever more lengthy poles; beginning as close-fitting aids, by the end of the piece their increasingly sinister purpose seems to be to modify and control.
Institute is complex, it could be argued overly so. In a disconnected age, how far are we all still interconnected? With care being more commonly bought as a package, can we rely on each other’s freely given support? And at what stage does the carer turn puppet-master?  These are questions which Gecko typically doesn’t answer readily, but instead asks its audience to contemplate.
Lahav’s fellow performers are Chris Evans, Ryen Perkins-Gangnes and François Testory, whose Louis is especially affecting in his attempts to retain control despite growing incapacity. They are thrilling to watch, never more so than in the passages of flowing choreography where they all move as one. The lighting, original music by Dave Price and atmospheric sound design also play an integral part; particularly mesmerising  is the vision of a body which cannot be saved, falling over and over again on the mezzanine.
Institute portrays a world of vulnerability and loss, relieved by an intense human connection ultimately betrayed by the passage of time. The piece’s final golden, frenzied expression of the continuance of life in the midst of grief helps to ensure that, by the end of the performance, there’s a great deal that will stay in its audience’s mind.

This run has now finished at Bristol Old Vic; there are more tour dates here

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