Battersea Arts Centre, (BAC), London ****
I have a recollection of first seeing Gecko and Taylor’s Dummies, their first show, originally in Edinburgh. But then again, I may be mistaken because my memory of that performance, nearly 15 years ago, contains images of masks and a sense of seeing something so original the echo of it stayed with me a very long time.
Gecko have since gone on to conquer the world and though Missing is filled with an array of kinetic and choreographic images, puppet work and bewildering sleights of hand, the use of masks isn’t one of the many tricks adopted by its guiding light, artistic director and creator, Amit Lahav.
Looking at Taylor’s Dummies online, you can see the links all too clearly with today’s Missing.
There is the same hard-wired athleticism, the same tensile energy and projection of angst – performers spinning in space, on a sixpence; the same sense of choreographic and physical `contact’.
Sometimes the work is reminiscent of another company, Frantic Assembly (who began their life almost ten years before Gecko) who also express emotional dysfunction through abrupt, physical precision.
Lahav, however, also adds structural frameworks and dialogue.
Missing explores the inner as well as outer life of a young woman, Lily. Bombarded by memories, Lahav projects these as figures appearing in ghostly green light, travelling across a moving platform; or more often, within a picture frame, high up or at stage level. Lily (Katie Lusby) is especially haunted by memories of her warring parents, appearing as a small puppet figure, gazing out, trapped between their legs as they exchange firey blows.
I especially liked the sudden transition as Lily, a young adult, now married, returns with her beloved and the physical dialogue that tells you, with just a change in direction of a hand on a knee or arm round a shoulder that things are already beginning to fray.
The marriage falls apart, agonisingly, and more and more Lily is drawn back to memories of her mum – a wonderful cafe flamenco dancer (Anna Finkel) and how she met her husband, an awkward, uncoordinated bundle of nerves, waiting at tables. An increasingly unsuitable match, their domestic life and jovial meals are marred by constant collapse into bickering and fights.
Not all of Lily’s journey or its trajectory is entirely clear and some images do start to become repetitive.
Lahav himself plays a mysterious, slightly sinister Italianate box-carrying figure – languages are wonderfully jumbled up and inchoate, giving an internationalism to a piece that can clearly be understood the world over – the symbolism of which I only began to realise might have something to do with Lily’s sense of self towards the end.
They have several encounters when his gestures towards her appear to be possibly a rape coinciding with the simulation of a bang against her chest from which she recoils with alarm. Later, he tenderly introduces a light bulb to the centre of her chest – and this, you realise, may perhaps be the beginning of Lily’s reconnecting with her true self.
It is a delightful touch in 70 minutes characterised more by frenetic physicality and in Anna Finkel, a thrilling flamenco beauty and verve.
But then Missing is made by the brilliant quality of its performer/dancers as well as Dave Price’s pounding sound-track and Chris Swain and Lahav’s lighting underscoring changes of scene, mood and outcome.
Powerful, viscerally gripping, Gecko’s Missing in the reborn Battersea Arts Centre Great Hall, stands for something even greater than itself. Its very presence is little short of a miracle for Gecko was performing Missing the night of the fire at BAC in March 2015 that engulfed and completely gutted the ceiling and much of Battersea’s Grand Hall.
That the building reopened within 26 hours speaks volumes for the love and ownership felt for BAC, not just locally but nationally and internationally.
BAC’s Artistic Director, David Jubb, pays full and fulsome tribute in the celebratory programme to all those who helped locally and worldwide put BAC back on its feet including those masters of theatre transformation, Haworth Tompkins, architects of amongst other the revamped Royal Court and the Young Vic, to name but two.
Ditto the same generosity and camaraderie evidently was displayed towards Gecko whose Missing production literally went up in smoke that night. The production has had to be entirely rebuilt.
So here they are, three years later, completing their run in the building where their life as a theatre company began fifteen years, one of the many companies BAC have helped launch into the world.
BAC is indeed a very special place sitting on the site of a house once known as Elm House, home to the remarkable Victorian reformer, philanthropist and first female Civil Servant, Jeanie Nassau Senior, who was also an early champion of ‘fostering’.
She would, no doubt, feel that passion being well carried on in BAC’s and Jubb’s nurturing and `fostering’ of raw and developing artistic talent emanating out from Lavender Hill. And in the love and ownership that radiated from BAC’s young, packed audience on Saturday night. Long may it continue to do so.
Presented by Gecko
Created by: Amit Lahav
Design: Rhys Jarman & Amit Lahav
Lighting Design: Chris Swain & Amit Lahav
Original Music: Dave Price
Associate Director: Rich Rusk
Sound Design: Enzo Appetecchia
Costume Supervisor: Amy Cook
Musicians: Dave Price, Ben Hales, Sam Burgess, Al Cherry & Finn Peters
Solo Vocalist: Georgina Roberts
Part of BAC’s Phoenix Season. Loved. Lost. Reborn.
Missing runs at BAC, London, Sept 6-15, 2018; then tours to York, Oct 17-20 and Nottingham Playhouse, Jan 29-31, 2019.
It has been touring since 2012 and was being performed at BAC on the night of the fire on March 13, 2015.
This review published on this site Sept 10, 2018