Review: Missing, Gecko Theatre at BAC

A little girl called Lily watches her Mum and Dad have a fight. “Lily, I have to go now,” her mother tells her. And she walks out. Lily’s memories intersect as past and present collide. This is Gecko Theatre’s Missing. It’s haunting, physical theatre expressionism. From the ashes, the production rises to complete its fated run in the Grand Hall at Battersea Arts Centre. The blaze lives in the walls, left exposed in the restoration, in a signature move by architects Haworth Tompkins.

Dance. Listen. I have to go.

The time of Lily’s childhood is signified beautifully on stage by screens with an antique glaze held up in front of bodies. Rhys Jarman and Amit Lahav have done an exquisite job with these frames that filter our focus back in time. Chris Swain’s dusky lighting, shot through with moments of bright colour, gives a surreal quality to the story.

We look back. Is this The Past? Or is it only Lily’s past as her present tells it? We cannot know. We do not know what, or who, is missing. Her presence on stage is out of time; ghostly dark eye paint surrounds her vision, and she fizzes with static sound. A puppet child sings. Then her adult present screeches into terrifying existence, out of the darkness and into the light.

Dance for me, Lily. “¿Quieres bailar?” Do you want to? But Lily, played by Katie Lusby, will not dance. She cannot. She will not. She cannot dance for herself again until she’s faced these suppressed memories. Her mother is in a bright red dress, dancing. It’s a sketch of Flamenco in an upstairs room. It’s an untouched memory from far, far away. Her father is gentle, his voice nostalgically similar to Jude Law’s in The Holiday. We imagine how the family fell apart. At what point did Lily’s life get lost in translation?

Escúchame. Lily speaks, when words are necessary in Gecko Theatre’s physical storytelling, in English. Her past is in Spanish. And her husband is German. Mutterings of words and phrases in these languages create a soundscape, together with hushes and whispers as the men and women we watch glide through Lily’s life. It’s intoxicating to listen to over Enzo Appetecchia’s score. But it probably helps if you know a little Spanish.

Her present is a flurry of hard modern life. The ensemble members hold angular objects – screens, tech and a coffee cup – with soft-sharp light glowing from them around her. They bend and arch into an ecstasy of nighttime bars and the timetabled rigidity of the office. They’re suited. Smart. Lily meets her husband-to-be in a bar and we see her life in fast forward, mounted on a conveyor belt centre stage, inexorably continuing to romantic conclusion. She has it all but it’s all tainted.

sofa scene gecko's missing

Lily sits on a sofa next to her husband (Ryen Perkins-Gangnes). His stylised laugh, as the TV is switched on, is haunting. She fizzes with static – a sound signal of her disconnection. In a seated pas de deux they collapse around each other, clashing and connecting their limbs, in a perfectly executed physical description of a relationship falling through the cracks of communication. It aches of moments you’ve sat with a partner, each knowing it’s broken and unable to grasp why. Together but distant they smile through. Until, they can’t.

Then they fight. It escalates. A face is slammed against the glass of a door. Their world spins into confusion. At the same time, Lily’s parents are in the upper room, fighting. Raging. Bright lights flare. For a scene so infused with mistrust, doubt and violence, it’s a beautifully choreographed mirroring through time.

Mama se tiene que ir. Lily. I have to go.

Amit Lahav and the Gecko ensemble (Chris Evans, Anna Finkel, Katie Lusby and Ryen Perkins-Ganges) have created a dreamscape of childhood hurt filtered into adulthood. Lily lives in a haze of isolation, pleasure and pain. Our protagonist’s mind is our point of stillness in a whirl of ensemble members and memories scattering on stage around her. Culpability at every turn is left as an anguished question mark.

Missing is at Battersea Arts Centre as part of the Phoenix Season 6-15 September 2018. It tours to York Theatre Royal (17-20 October 2018) and Nottingham Playhouse (29-31 January 2019).

More information on Gecko’s website.