Institute - The Bristol Old Vic

Institute - The Bristol Old Vic

‘What a piece of work is man […] in form and moving how express and admirable’ Act II, Scene II Hamlet

After Gecko’s award winning production of The Wedding, the theatre company has returned to Bristol for a re-run of their show Institute. Institute has no clear plot but, as with most of Gecko’s productions, this does not matter. Instead of telling a particular story, the performance explores various themes - the most prevalent being what it means to care and the ways in which we care for each other.

The show consists of four male dancers who all don suits. Each of them have their own stories which overlap as they explore how they look after one another. Firstly, we meet Martin and Daniel. Martin is obsessed by his girlfriend Margaret who is slipping away, whilst Daniel is struggling to deal with the increasing pressures from his job as an architect. Later, we are introduced to Karl and Louis. They are more confident characters but are not without their own troubles. Karl is haunted by the ghost of his father who he seemed to let slip away, and Louis is suffering from an undisclosed disease.

The dancers support each other throughout their various trials and tribulations. Different styles of choreography explore the different ways in which they do so. Many times throughout the show Martin leads Daniel gracefully across the stage in a light jig, a dance it seems that they have done together many times before. It feels like a pep talk helping to prepare Daniel for his day at work. Daniel returns the favour, playfully cheering up Martin by emulating different animals in a farcical style which eventually instigates a hilarious samba infused party scene. The four of them often come together in group dance where they literally support one another as they fall, collapse, and lift each other back up again. The most poignant moment of all is when all four of them stand in a circle, take each other by the hands, and perform the choreography without once letting go.

The production elements are an integral part of the show. Desks and dining tables slide out from filing cabinets which tower up to the roof of the Bristol Old Vic theatre. The props allow the dancers to explore different ways of working and moving. In one section, Martin appears on stage with straps around his head, and his arms and legs are attached to long polls by which he can be manipulated by the others. Similarly, the dancers use various small chairs to help direct and move each other. The lighting and sound are extremely powerful elements in contributing to the dancers’ stories. At one point, the two combined almost became another character, as accusatory spotlights and police sirens accost Martin and Daniel whenever they misbehave. One stunning image created by the two is of Karl’s father repeatedly slipping away in the back of the stage whilst Karl performs a solo down stage.

Institute is the perfect, and most imaginative, blend of comedy and tragedy. This is one of the most fascinating things about Gecko’s production. The audience must interpret a lot of what they see in the piece. This review has merely detailed what I have seen, but the whole production is rich in ideas and images which I almost certainly would have missed. It is definitely worth going to try and spot them.

****

Four stars

Kate Valentine Crisp