This production is not so much about ‘speaking in tongues’ (the phenomenon of people talking in languages unknown to them) but hearing in tongues, since one of several unique selling points for Ipswich-based physical theatre company Gecko is for the (considerable) spoken text in their work to be voiced in the multiple languages of the company’s international cast. Thus, here we had Norwegian, English, Spanish, German, Serbian and French amongst others (not all the speech was audible but since one needed to be multi-lingual to understand it, the indistinct vocals really didn’t matter). The production was presented as part of the London International Mime Festival, and it was a diverse theatrical experience that transcended the boundaries of dance and mime.

Anna Finkel in Gecko's <i>The Wedding</i> © Richard Haughton
Anna Finkel in Gecko's The Wedding
© Richard Haughton

Memorable imagery littered the eighty-minute work, beginning with a unique stage entry via something akin to a hybrid laundry chute (cum giant submarine periscope) landing onto a pile of teddy bears large enough to have cleared out Hamleys. The performers thus deposited onto the soft toys, a phenomenon forewarned each time by flashing lights and alarm-style buzzing, were clad only in underwear; the early ‘sliders’ - men and women - grabbing a teddy bear which was presented to (Norwegian) “hostess” Madeleine Fairminer, who exchanged it for a wedding dress, presumably representing some kind of rite of passage towards adulthood. Eventually, in a startling coup de théâtre, the house in which these exchanges took place, collapsed. Rhys Jarman’s set designs were powerful throughout.

Another surprise was a real-life Man in a Suitcase – you must be of a certain age to remember that TV show – when Khalid’s face – eventually followed by the rest of him – suddenly appeared, cheerily, out of the front pocket of a wheelie case, asking audience members to donate one euro. Khalid was entertainingly portrayed by Chris Evans. It later transpired that his suitcase was home to other immigrants with Lola (Lucia Chocarro) soon following through the open zip, exiting with a jolly ‘Hola’ before launching into a stream of Spanish indignation. 

I pass many people living out of suitcases, in and around Tottenham Court Road every day, whatever the weather, and the sense of searching for identity and home was one of few consistent themes to cling on to in an otherwise variable theatrical experience. The title seemed largely irrelevant, serving as a metaphor to symbolise the various socioeconomic contracts that define modern life. Contrasting with the effective symbolism of homelessness were the occasional scenes of la grande bouffe in which a door to something like an opera box (it reminded me of the opera-themed restaurant, Sarastro, in Covent Garden) showed an excess of gluttony, in a banquet that the multi-talented Kenny Wing Tao Ho tried, unsuccessfully, to gate-crash via some parkour climbing.

A sequence of people stuck in claustrophobic spaces seemed to reference office work with each pod lit from under a different array of tasselled lampshades; and another had people surrounded by consumer goodies suspended like fishes-on-a-hook, just out of reach. The lighting, by Joe Hornsby, was integral to the significant switches of mood; and Dave Price’s original music, augmented by a soundscape designed by Jon Everett was also mostly effective in outlining these many emotional states.

The brief bouts of dance were intricately choreographed in movement generously credited to the performers (and their predecessors during the creation) as well as to the arch-creator (and Gecko artistic director, Amit Lahav), and danced in a diverse array of costumes. Towards the end, for some reason not clear to me, women seemed to resemble the “Listen carefully, I’ll say this only once” character of Michelle of the Resistance in ‘Allo ‘Allo (flat shoes, ankle socks, long grey skirts and white blouses).

The problem with a show that relies so heavily on metaphor and symbolism is that memorable sequences punctuated lengthy passages that worked less well and there were several periods where I found myself searching for something tangible to latch onto, whether as entertainment or a challenge. The best of the former was reserved for a tremendous ending, which saw the nine excellent performers lined up at the front of the stage, each sitting with a different lampshade dangling above their heads. As the music pulsated to a dynamic conclusion, they confronted the audience by clapping and stamping in perfect unison to the complex rhythms of a finale that was destined to bring much of the young audience to their feet. As rousing endings go, it was especially strong.