Gecko’s Missing closed the London International Mime Festival with a bang this weekend at the Royal Opera House Linbury Studio. Missing is a vivid piece of dance theatre, infused with electrifying energy, highly developed characters and an intriguing plot.
Missing tells the story of Lily, a woman whose soul is in decay, as she remembers and revisits her childhood in an attempt to revitalise her soul. We see the relationship between Lily and her husband build with anticipation, then unravel unhappily. Lily begins to explore what’s wrong with her after she meets with an ambiguous Italian-speaking figure (a scientist, priest, mentor?) who identifies and helps remedy Lily’s issue, taking her soul from within her and handing it back to her in a cardboard box. Lily’s memories pepper Missing, giving us glimpses into the relationship between her parents (her British father and Spanish mother, a Flamenco dancer). As we observe their passionate relationship in collapse, Lily gains a clearer understanding of her origins and, therefore, her present identity crisis. To me, the reason Lily’s soul is in decay is that she’s denying something latent but essential to her nature. Her journey of discovery takes her back to her childhood and allows her to identify what’s missing in her present.
Gecko’s energetic visual storytelling is incomparable. Their physical work establishes an array of characters who we can engage and identify with. Lily’s relationship with her husband is built up in a rush, amongst the bustling rhythms of high-speed business society – the whizz and whirr of colleagues, contracts and life rushing by – but the pair deflate when they are finally alone. Unable to sit together comfortably, they fidget, writhe and maneouvre, yet are unable to settle. Colleagues burst in, interrupt their marriage, and float past as Lily’s work life invades their home. Lily is lost: momentarily, her loud, hectic life dissolves around her and all that is left is the overwhelming sound of her breath, as if she’s drowning.
Even though each character speaks in a different European language, we are able to understand them through their physicality – the characters are vocal, but their communication is not restricted to the verbal level. The multilingualism of Missing does not prevent our access, but rather focuses it: Georgina Roberts, as Lily, is the only character who speaks English, and thus we are invited into her world. The unhappiness between Lily and her husband (Ryen Perkins-Gangnes), and between Lily’s parents (Anna Finkel and Chris Evans), manifests in the clash of languages, each partner speaking a different language. Lily’s soul is reinstated, brighter now than before, after she has remembered the song she sang in Spanish as a child. As Lily dances Flamenco like her mother, gradually becoming more confident, we see how tapping into her past has helped her find her true self.
Gecko’s physical storytelling would be incomplete without the technical elements that are fully integrated into Missing. Lily’s memories are seen as if through a lens: back-lit wooden frames create a focus for scenes in Lily’s past, which play out under eerie light. Each one is a snapshot, like an old photo, yet the memories warp as they are re-remembered – the latent realities of Lily’s past unfold. A fight between her parents is played, rewound and replayed with filmic precision. Sparks fly, almost literally: as the scene gradually gets more violent, the pair ricochet off the sheer plastic fronting and catch the light like electric shocks. Lighting (Chris Swain) and design (Rhys Jarman) are used ingeniously throughout Missing. The Italian-speaking figure – played by artistic director, Amit Lahav – deduces Lily’s problem using x-ray images, then pulls a light from her core and hands it to her in cardboard box, which lights her face from below. Travelators allow scenes and characters to float through Lily’s life. Similarly, the story is highly supported by the original music (Dave Price) and sound effects (Enzo Appetecchia and Nathan Johnson).
Gecko Theatre work in a fascinating way that means all these elements develop in tandem: the technical elements enable the physical ideas to expand and mature, and vice versa. Moreover, every production is in constant development. Every performance is like a testing ground, where new ideas surface and the content changes: there is about 10% of the original show left in the current Missing, said Lahav in post-show discussions on Friday. Their aim stays firm though: to make a production that can mean something personal to everyone.
You could see this show several times and gain something new from it each time. In fact, this was my second viewing of Missing (the first in August 2013), and I found my connection to Lily’s story renewed. Gecko’s Missing is a fascinating, vivid piece of physical storytelling that will have a personal meaning for everyone who sees it.
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