Wednesday 17th October 2018 at York Theatre Royal.
‘What the f**k was that? I mean…I liked it, but what the f**k was that?’ This was the passionate proclamation of a young theatregoer as the lights came up after this performance of Gecko Theatre’s Missing – a physical theatre piece which sells itself as ‘a deliciously warped journey into the depths of the human psyche’. I love that reaction.
It sums up the somewhat out of body experience of seeing a show like this; something which is so far out of the box of the ordinary that the cast probably can’t remember anything at all which might be considered mundane or monotonous. This is physical theatre that relies so heavily on movement to piece together the enticingly vague, transient narrative that it often morphs entirely into contemporary dance before returning to token moments of dialogue to offer a little helpful clarity between one wild sequence and another. The production is the creation of Artistic Director of Gecko Amit Lahav, and it’s an extraordinary, sophisticated piece of performance.
We meet Lily (Katie Lusby), our protagonist, through a rather brutal opening sequence which plants the most common tropes of fear; a puppet doll, shadows, sharp, ear-piercing noises and flashes of light which give suggestions of threat rather than anything concrete. This mood isn’t revisited for a while though as we’re thrust into Lily’s life of work, home and pals which offer up lively scenes of socialising and growing tensions in a domestic setting which grimly seems to replicate visions from distant memories.
From here there is a whirling confusion intertwined with moments of clarity and calm as Lily seems to find fragments of what she is searching for – if indeed she is searching by choice; there is always the chance that this is an unwilling journey into unwanted memories. The company’s literature tells us that Lily’s ‘soul appears to be decaying’ – and that sense of corruption and destruction dances around the performers throughout.
It’s a five-strong cast and the talent is universally brilliant. Between them, Lucia Chocarro, Amit Lahav, Katie Lusby, Ryan Perkins-Gangnes and John Ross deliver the story with extraordinary physical storytelling. With dexterous movement and deeply expressive faces, they fill the stage with feeling without saying much at all out loud. Lusby does a fantastic job of making Lily’s pains visceral and credible as her character undergoes what is clearly a painful journey to the past. Thanks to Ganges, the palpable pain in Lily’s life extends beyond those memories and into relationships, with Ganges and Lusby performing thrillingly disturbing sequences of discord and desperation brushed with just a few glimpses of comic awkwardness.
Chocarro’s is perhaps the most impressive performance, with her presence felt emphatically thanks to the combination of the blazing red dress she wears (Martin Goddard and Becky-Dee Trevenen) along with the striking and dramatic movements attached to her character. Chocarro’s performance is also moving and tender in its sensitive, wrought portrayal of a mother whose life took an unexpected turn; she’s a wonderful performer and suffice to say, if Chocarro is in the scene, your eyes are likely on her, such is the draw of her performance here.
The production is incredibly cinematic, making use of sophisticated lighting (Lahav and Chris Swain), over-sized picture frames and plastic wrap to create hazy images of life in both the present and the past. The movement of the cast is perfectly in tune with this as they throw their bodies into strange but often beautiful contortions to indicate the passage of time in either direction. It’s with great frenetic energy and boundless imagination that the performers tell this story – their untameable forms assisted in all their power by a series of revolves and moving belts (Lahav and Rhys Jarman).
The movement is so far away from the everyday and the languages of movement and nationalities merge waveringly, combining and clashing or transforming one another in such a way as to make it near impossible to have two audience members leave the space with the same precise interpretation or understanding of what they have seen. How wonderful it is that a show can do such a thing with such sophistication and a special kind of strange visual beauty.
Missing seems to be a show, at heart, about memory and the recollection, rediscovery and distortions of past events. It’s something between hunting down lost memories which evade us and exploring a dark forgotten past. What I really enjoy about a performance like this is that it seems left to us to piece together the wordlessness of Lily’s world into something which might define ‘Missing’ as the title – perhaps the memory, the relationships, the self-knowledge of this woman – or perhaps even Lily herself is a missing person of a kind.
Like Lily herself, the narrative is caught between reassuring familiarity and challenging, abstract ideas hanging in the air… Above all else, Missing is thoroughly compelling and often mesmerising to watch – it might not always feel like there’s certainty in meaning, but there’s never once a danger of the production falling into dull, lack-lustre territory. Catch it if you can.
Missing plays at York Theatre Royal until October 20th 2018 and you can find tickets here. Following this, the production will continue to tour until February 2019 and you can find more information and tickets here.