It’s a mismatched band of not-so-merry men – an architect tormented by high expectations, a hopeless romantic tormented by an Italian restaurant memory, a German man tormented by haunting dreams/visions and a French guy who is just tormented, I’m not really sure what by. Welcome to Institute.
Whatever this is – a hospital, asylum, office – it’s filled with this entrancing sense of surrealism, like Dali meets Orwell. Filing cabinets contain memories to be flicked through like old home films tapes. Cells are made from Perspex with stark, bright lighting, like some Damien Hirst-esque sculpture. Patients (or inmates?) are controlled by huge marionette style crutches. Institute is as visually compelling as it is complex with its subject matter.
It’s not a hostile environment though. It’s twisted at times, and there’s no pretence of blissful happiness, but the characters’ care for each other in a way that’s almost heart-breakingly childlike. Usually where insanity and institutions are concerned, there’s an overriding sense of ‘us and them’, but Gecko avoid this by focusing on the ‘us’. There’s rarely hostility between the characters who dance with joined hands, as if someone animated Matisse’s The Dance.
Not to mention that physical theatre is rarely this slick. Gecko’s choreography is so poetic that for the most part, I forget that I have absolutely no clue what is going on and enjoy being mesmerised by their movement. The climactic ending is stunning as the three figures dance in synchronised silhouettes in front of a stark orange light, like the sun rising on this haunting landscape.
At least I’m not the only one who is confused here. As I leave, it’s soon evident that I am not the only one who is somewhat bewildered by exactly what we just witnessed: I hear about three people say “I’m not sure what was really going on”. But this is weirdly enjoyable about Institute. The plot is not crystal clear, but the themes are: insanity, caring, and to some extent, control – all themes that aren’t crystal in reality so why should they always be in theatre? Its ambiguity is infectious, forcing us to properly think about what we’ve just seen and what it means. We aren’t simply handed things on a plate.
Institute is playing at the Pleasance Courtyard (venue 33) until August 29th. For more information, visit the Fringe website.