The internationally acclaimed physical theatre company Gecko have made their feature film debut, Institute. It’s a movement-driven, surrealist work that discusses mental health and is now available on BBC iPlayer. Based on the 2014 acclaimed live production of the same name, Gecko seeks to find a balance between stage and screen, presenting a movie that stays true to both mediums. Through pairing cinematic visuals with theatrical sequences, Institute successfully explores internal conflicts and human connection poetically, resulting in a compelling and, at times, unsettling watch for theatre and film fans alike.
Directed by Amit Lahav, Institute is a 60-minute linear piece with a dreamlike narrative interlaced with emotive choreography. Set in an eerie unnamed facility, we follow two patients – Daniel (Chris Evans) and Martin (Lahav) – who confront their trauma through fractured memories during their “treatment”. Institute tells its characters’ stories through pointed sequences and striking visuals that alternate from showing the men’s inner world, their anxieties and delusions, to the stark reality of clinic rooms, empty hallways and CCTV cameras.
Staying true to their physical theatre roots, Gecko transitions to the screen relatively successfully, particularly in moments where physicality and inspired cinematography collide. Daniel’s dance while struggling with his work and depression and Martin’s passionate sequence with the ghost of a past lover prove to be standout moments in this new release, as the camera work compliments the actors’ physicality. However, Institute has a tendency of foregoing dynamic choreography. Instead, it opts for simpler movements, similar to those seen from a static recording of a live performance. Emotional intensity is sometimes inconsistent as the dances switch from being dynamic to motionless, hindering immersing the audience during pivotal sequences.
Despite the choreography’s varying impact, the overall effect of Institute cannot be denied. The narrative deals with a range of heavy themes, while simultaneously crafting its own unique style and elevating the emotionally charged atmosphere from its original production. Empathy and complex human feelings are evoked further by the adept cast’s powerful performances and the intriguing sound design. The result is a layered and immersive feat that successfully comments on modern interactions and captures the audience’s attention.
The adaptation of Gecko’s stage play, while not perfect, is a strong debut. Through combining the best parts of theatre with film, Institute stands as a memorable and unique piece of storytelling that defies expectations.
Photo: John Ferguson
Institute is released digitally on demand on 13th August 2020.
Watch the trailer for Institute here: