As Gecko Theatre Company prepares to take its show, Missing, to Edinburgh, Dan Hutton talks to Artistic Director Amit Lahav about the scientific value of the soul and engaging the audience’s imagination
“…And then he fell over.”
Halfway through my discussion with Amit Lahav, Artistic Director of Gecko, the signal my end goes dead and I have to call him back. As he picks up the phone, I am met with what seems to be the end of an hilarious story which has been told in my absence, and immediately I try to work out what has come previously. He’s joking, obviously, and playing tricks with my mind, but it perfectly demonstrates the point he was making before the wonderful British phone network cut him off. Just before I lose him, I catch the words “narrative unbreakable”, and when we manage to talk again Lahav admits that “what takes the most time is finding something that isn’t too strict a journey for the audience that basically they can’t move… they have to make sense of it themselves”.
It’s only a matter of days before the Gecko team goes into the final week of rehearsals for Missing before it heads to Edinburgh. And although the show has been in development for over two years (I saw a work-in-progress at Warwick Arts Centre back in February 2011), Lahav still feels like there’s plenty of work to do. “It’s never finished, and it’s changed a lot since the first one. I think we’re on version 3.8, and we’ve done a couple of shows of 3.8. To me, it’s an incredibly young show”. Missing ‘3.8’ is, I am told, “97 per cent different” from the show as I saw it in scratch.
Certain things have remained constant, however. In 2010, Lahav had been working in Wisconsin with a dance company, and during this period various ideas which would form the basis of Missing started to highlight themselves: “One was to do with the notion of a missing girl and the other was to do with the idea that we can place some scientific value on the soul,” the latter of which came out of working with a couple of dancers with a scientific background, who would attempt to express notions of “time, light and photons” through movement. “The next thing which emerged was the idea of a woman with a decaying soul. So those were the three strands took me forward for a good year and took me towards that work-in-progress”.
And then, over the following 30 months, the show continued to change and develop. Gecko’s shows always involve a heavy dose of movement and the team always try to remain technically ambitious with the scope of how they are able to tell a story on stage. Even back in its early stages, Missing was a highly technical show, including at its core a moving platform which allowed for all manner of tricks and transitions. This idea came from wanting “some sense of the world floating in and out of focus”. Aside from this, however, the choice to include it was purely practical: “Because ultimately the form of the piece, the rhythm of the piece, is very important to me so how things transition is vital; it’s in those moments that you either keep the audience’s focus and attention or lose it completely. I love the moving platform because it enables these ideas and thoughts to float around the central characters and also to float past the audience’s imagination.”
The idea of engaging the audience’s imagination is integral to an understanding of Gecko’s work, and for Lahav this always remains the most important thing that he wants his theatre to do. “I think there is a culture today where people want to be told what to think, and there’s a sense that you can say ‘This is what this is about’ and the satisfaction of an audience getting it seems to be hyper-important. And that for me isn’t interesting. Just to merely get the plot – ‘Yes I get it, she shot her, she was having an affair with him, and the child became a lawyer’ – I don’t give a toss. If it’s something that I can embark on a journey and go ‘this is me’, if it’s about who I am and where I’m going, enabling me to rethink the world in some way – that’s what it’s all about for me. And that’s why it takes me two years to try and find the formula for these bloody things.”
The way Lahav sees it, “there are three or four ways of explaining a Gecko show”. The first is what is means to him as a writer and the second is the agreed narrative of everyone working on the show. “Then the third one – and the most important one – is the individual piece that each individual audience member comes out with and tells you about and says ‘This is what it’s about’. And effectively, at that point, you end up with hundreds of different pieces. It has to be written by each individual audience member. Without that it could be a very simplistic journey.”
Whilst making a piece, Lahav likes to feed “very strongly off who’s in the room”, and creates the show as he goes, taking inspiration from what is thrown up during the rehearsal process. He admits, however, that there’s a very strong personal aspect to the shows and that “at the end of the day it comes down to a simple thing which is that I have to feel it myself”. The director was born to an Israeli father and an English mother, and grew up in Israel before moving to the UK where he had to deal with his parents’ “marriage breaking down and fall apart. There’s a story at the heart of Missing which is my story”.
So all the way from its origins in scientific theory, the show as it stands is “about the identity of someone and how they remember who they are, and this potential notion that if you don’t somehow accept who you are – your identity, your cultural identity – that in some way you’ll get sick or a part of you will start to die”. Just like the show itself, which goes back to its origins three years ago and has picked up various scenes and sequences throughout its life, the main characters in Missing have to choose how they “remember certain ideas and how they choose to forget them”.
Will it be harder to work in his favoured style of constantly reworking when in the high-pressure environment of Edinburgh (Lahav is in the show this time) where the company will be flyering along with everyone else and chatting to audiences after each show in Gecko Corner? “If I feel a bit uncomfortable with something or if something changes rhythmically to such an extent that it doesn’t make sense any more, then you can be sure that I’ll be doing my best that it does. And that has to played against the very fast turnaround of the show, but you never know; there’s a lot you can do in a living room.”