Acclaimed physical theatre company, Gecko, bring their stage production Institute to the small screen in a specially filmed version for BBC Arts in Quarantine season. It seems a sensible move given its prevailing themes of mental health and the struggle to meet one’s own expectations of oneself, all of which will have been amplified for many in lockdown.
Set in some kind of ghostly hospital, two residents of the institution struggle to create order from the chaos of their outside lives. Martin (Gecko Artistic Director, Amit Lahav) has been spurned by a lover, while Daniel (Chris Evans) has crumbled under the weight of expectation from family and co-workers. Their carers (or are they their captors?) appear to put them through a series of tests, where episodes from their past lives are recreated or staged, like some kind of Groundhog Day experiment they are forced to endure until they get it right, or perhaps, just accept what really happened.
These fragmented moments are intercut with flashbacks to the past, dialogue is often silenced and the hospital staff mutter indistinctly in French. It creates a surreal and disconcerting world, where the viewer finds themselves as confused as Martin and Daniel. This television version of Institute is beautifully shot, further emphasising the world at odds with reality, camera angles and lighting create a look of physical illness in all four men, while their mental struggles are accentuated by an exotic and enticing soundtrack from Dave Price.
The men often attempt to bond, to care for each other even, though it is shrugged off in typical macho fashion. While the piece focusses on Martin and Daniel, it is the relation between Karl (Ryen Perkins-Gangnes) and Louis (François Testory) which becomes most interesting, particularly when that crosses with Martin and Daniel.
There’s no hint of a linear storyline, the fragments bound together by beautifully sharp choreography that’s a delight to watch. Such storytelling, as is often the case, becomes difficult to follow and the second half begins to lose some of its original focus, though the photography helps to keep the piece engaging.
Institute poses plenty of questions, but suggests no answers. It is an excellent example of the physical theatre that has made Gecko renowned in the field, while its cryptic narrative displays ambition and thoughtfulness.
Gecko’s Institute will be broadcast on BBC Four at 23.10 on 19th July and will be available on BBC iPlayer shortly after.
Main Image: François Testory in Institute credit John Ferguson