mon 17/06/2024

The Wedding, Gecko Theatre, Barbican review - eccentric, ebullient exploration of our contract with society | reviews, news & interviews

The Wedding, Gecko Theatre, Barbican review - eccentric, ebullient exploration of our contract with society

The Wedding, Gecko Theatre, Barbican review - eccentric, ebullient exploration of our contract with society

Gecko boldly sculpts surreal alternative realities to our predicted worlds

'The Wedding' - the ties that bindImages - Rocio Chacon

You never forget your first Gecko production. I experienced mine almost 20 years ago at the Battersea Arts Centre, when the company performed Tailors’ Dummies, its ingenious surreal show about obsession. This had all the hallmarks that would make Gecko one of our most distinctive physical theatre companies; gravity-defying choreography, a quasi-acrobatic exploration of concepts of the body, and scenes that were as elliptical as they were absurd.

From here they went on to create works including The Arab and the Jew, The Overcoat and Missing, enthralling audiences with their bold sculpting of alternative realities. Now The Wedding is paying a return visit to the Barbican following its sold-out run in 2019. Its ambitious aim is to investigate the "contract" each one of us constructs with a society; whether we’re married to our job, someone we genuinely love, or to our particular position in the class system. As if to emphasise the quasi-mechanical aspect of marriage, each "bride" arrives on stage through a chute. Half-naked and clutching a teddy-bear, they stumble over to a receptionist who fits both the men and the women up with a white bridal gown, before opening the door to reveal a manic wedding party.

Dave Price’s wild soundscape whirls the audience through everything from klezmer wedding dances to opera, from drum and bass to percussive folk dance. Director Amit Lahav shapes the different weddings through a bacchanalian, lurching choreography, from which different stories emerge as the evening evolves. At certain points we watch people trapped in their office routine, undergoing an endless meaningless repetition of tube trips and frantic phone-calls. At others we see different people emerge and try to forge their own story; a woman tries frantically to climb back up the chute but is vomited back out into the relentless throng.

Rhys Jarman’s design conveys a dystopian society operating at three levels. From time to time the wealthiest "one percent" are revealed in a large golden frame dining at an impossibly tall table (pictured right); often they’re faceless so it feels as if we are looking at wealth’s absurdity in the context of a particularly decadent Magritte painting.

In the next circle of this social "hell" we have the worker drones operating in a range of box-like office spaces. In the final rung of society we have the refugees who emerge from the zipped opening of a suitcase, almost as if it is giving birth to them. Throughout the evening characters lunge to go from one segment of society to another; sometimes they are assimilated, at others they fall back to where they started.

Gecko specialises in a chaotic style, amplified by the fact that the characters are speaking in 13 different languages, including Arabic, Georgian and Esperanto. This is part of its dynamic innovative sound world, but there are times here when it feels confusing. When a piece runs at 80 minutes, you want more emotional involvement than the whirligig of imagery involves. You’re never less than bowled over by its brilliant originality, yet there are points where it leaves you feeling hollow.

A highlight of the production is the moments when it slows down to tell the story of one couple who get married for love, only to end up divorcing. Here the more measured pace – combined with poetically eccentric puppetry that animates objects in their lives ranging from the man’s tie to the lamps that illuminate them – allows you to build a sense of what’s at stake for them both. The finale in which the cast urges the audience to join them in fiercely rhythmic clapping is also as powerful as it is resonant. The Wedding may be an evening which is slightly less than the sum of its parts, but it still shows a company of rich and original creativity, which bodes well for its recently commissioned show at the National Theatre that is due next year.


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