‘Gecko shows have a long lifespan’. It’s an apt reflection from Amit Lahav, Artistic Director of the Company, chatting the day after the opening performance at the temporary base in Nuffield during the current tour. Often in development for over three or so years, Gecko’s performances invariably travel the world, wowing audiences in multiple continents, often simultaneously with two casts attached to different projects. It’s a track record that is rarely matched, with the company having spent more than a decade working on a number of titles, seeing them cultivate a specific prestigious standing.
A lot of this is invariably down to Lahav’s steerage, on top of his highly specialised company-based process. Gecko defies any form of conventional system for creating shows, instead depending on something far more ‘organic’. ‘You never know what a Gecko show will become’, he admits – a tantalising prospect for the creation process. It’s in the exploration that the Gecko shows thrive, rather than conforming to some overall agenda or concept. ‘You aren’t trying to service anything, you have to wait to see how it’ll resonate. There’s no script.’ In Lahav’s eyes, ’sound, choreography, design, these things all have to grow as one’, as was the case with Institute, currently touring the UK (before a scheduled departure for Sydney, (and beyond)).
Institute confronts (though never tries, suitably, to solve) mental health issues that can permeate through mundane and everyday life, sometimes finding visual beauty in the midst of intense emotional crises. It’s a deeply intrinsic piece now passing its second birthday, having received critical and audience acclaim in its time. Important as that is, Lahav is key to make sure the show continues to develop – organically. ‘The artistic rhythms have their own life, they lead themselves. Changes only happen when the show demands it, for example if something becomes stagnant – then it’s about bringing it back to life.’
A complex task, made all the more difficult given that this is a performance that succeeds, to a greater extent, when it allows audiences to take what they want from it. Nothing is certain in Institute – there is no consistent language spoken (or as Lahav puts it, ‘audiences have to come to realise they won’t understand everything that’s being said’), the show operates elusively, with the set, the lighting moving and transforming just as the characters do. This is entirely deliberate, and instrumental to Lahav’s process. ‘What the people make of the show belongs to them’, he states – ‘it’s almost entirely poetic and can be endlessly interpreted personally’. It’s a prominent mission statement, and one that Gecko have carried throughout their lucrative lifespan.
A key to giving audiences the scope to truly interpret and invest in shows is by guaranteeing that there is sense of artistic clarity – something that, to Lahav, many performances can often fail to convey. There seems to be a paradox, an enticing one at that in Gecko ideas – constructing these ambiguous, poetically elusive shows, while also guaranteeing that audiences always feel able and invited to bring their own ideas to the table, exiting the performance safe in the knowledge that their interpretation, whatever it may be, is always valid.
Intrinsic to this is the aforementioned diverse use of linguistics that occurs in the performance. With the performers operating in a variety of languages, sometimes resorting to conversational gibberish, there’s a deliberate desire to avoid giving language too much credence. As Lahav puts it: ‘‘I don’t want to have a cerebral relationship with the audience that happens through language. Often language tends to be directive, but Gecko’s desire is to remove the anchoring – giving audiences a clear idea – you have to find another way to comprehend.’
He goes one step further, beyond the general theatrical impact that language can have. ‘Words are something to be distrustful of nowadays. They’re a powerful tool used by politicians and rarely coded in truth. A manipulative tool.’ Instead, it is the physicality of the performers that conveys the real messages in Institute – as it seems, for Gecko, ‘physicality is a truthful language’.
This is a powerful, important message that Lahav is commenting upon, and at no point does he make his distaste for the current Government less than opaque – talking with a conviction that can only be admired given the current circumstances of the arts in the United Kingdom. ‘We want to enable, give people a sense of empowerment to go and make work, to continue to be artists. It’s essential for the world.’ It’s this bold undertaking that charges both Lahav and his work – he uses a recent example in Parliament to prove his point. ‘A few days ago a Scottish MP demanded that the Government respond to the release of I, Daniel Blake. The response was that it should be ignored – ‘it’s only fiction. Don’t look at it.’’ As artists, this form of sentiment from the establishment is incredibly troubling – if artists, filmmakers, even those who win the most prestigious prizes in their collective fields, are to be dismissed out of hand.
Gecko’s contribution to the current political circumstances have already begun – as Lahav puts it, ‘it’s our responsibility to share and, in its simplest form, we want to affect and change the world, however big you want to paint that picture.’ The company have initiated, alongside Ipswich Mind, using the themes and ideas of Institute to hold workshops directly discussing mental health issues. ‘It’s an unusual departure for Gecko to do these workshops’, Lahav notes, but ‘you have to keep open to these things. The workshops were never a plan when the show was first conceived, but for Lahav they can be an incredibly involving process. ‘We’re talking about emotional needs rather than talking about theatre-drama. Which is fascinating’. Within these workshops, participants are encouraged to physically, aurally demonstrate responses and ideas surrounding mental health, and, as a result, ‘touching people in a particular way.
Workshops like Gecko’s are something to be admired, no doubt, and Lahav has successfully used a critically acclaimed show to raise awareness for issues that, for all too long, have been dismissed out of hand. May other companies continue to carry the same torch.