Institute Festival Theatre

I hadn’t heard of Gecko Theatre before, and there wasn’t a lot of information available in the programme or on their website to enlighten me. They have been around for ten years and in that time have only produced six works in all and it has taken them almost two years to produce this one, Institute. The care and attention to detail that has gone into it definitely shows. In the brief programme notes, Director Amit Lahav tells us he wants to explore the notion of care in a potentially fractured and disconnected world and has created the work using Gecko’s “established working methodology of physical exploration and theatrical invention”. Still doesn’t tell us much so there is nothing else for it but to sit back and watch it unfold. To say I fully understood it all by the end would be a lie but it certainly was a very entertaining and thought provoking seventy-five minutes.

The story, if it can be called that, takes place in some kind of psychiatric care facility and there are four male performers who take the roles of patients and carers. Lahav himself plays Martin who is tortured by memories of rejection by his Italian lover Margaret. Chris Evans is Daniel, who appears to have had a work related breakdown. Ryen Perkins-Gangnes as Karl and Francois Testory as Louis are carers, doctors, warders, and they speak in French and German which all adds to the wonderful confusion.

The stage is bare and surrounded on all sides by towering filing cabinets which are used ingeniously to create different sets – drawers pull out to form a restaurant, an office, a doctor’s waiting room. They also contain files which hold voices and scenes from the inmates’ memories – a couple making love, an awards ceremony. Loud buzzers sound and lights flash, controlling the behaviour of the inmates and adding to the general disorienting atmosphere. Microphones amplify the performers’ breathing which emphasises the emotional intensity of the piece and the music and sound design of Dave Price and Nathan Johnson perfectly complements the dance and movements, all adding up to a mesmerising whole. There is humour too, as they enact episodes from their past – the restaurant scene with the unseen Margaret played only by a pair of hands, the video interview with the unseen boss. It is all marvellously inventive and fascinating. This was only a two night run so if you didn’t manage to catch them this time, please look out for Gecko in the future – I guarantee it will be worth it.

And finally, if by any chance the lady sitting behind me in the dress circle reads this, could she please note that, however slowly and carefully you try to eat your big bag of crisps during the performance we can all still hear you and it is very distracting!

Irene Brownlee