views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Battersea Arts Centre
7th March 2015


Publicity image for Missing

Photography supplied by Battersea Arts Centre

If you spot a strange bearded man trying to hand you an oddly glowing box, don't run away: take it as a sign you need to sort your life out. In Gecko Theatre's utterly brilliant Missing, we meet one woman who finds herself in that exact scenario. She realises her soul is decaying, and accepts help from a mysterious stranger (Amit Lahav) in understanding what exactly is happening to her, and hopefully finding a way of reversing the decline.

Lily (Georgina Roberts) is doing well at work, suddenly her boyfriend (Ryen Perkins-Gangnes) proposes, she accepts, they get married - on the face of it, la vita is pretty dolce. However, in the background is Lily's unhappy childhood, marred by her parents' relationship crumbling in front of her as a young girl. The priest-like figure forces her to revisit all these repressed memories, and the impact that they still have on Lily as an adult all these years later is heartbreakingly painful. The dance is enthralling, particularly the flamenco by Lily's mum (Anna Finkel), but some of the most haunting scenes simply involve Roberts staring into the audience, her face etched with pure hurt.

It's rare to see special effects this impressive outside of The National - the sparks of lightning between Lily's mum and dad (Chris Evans) showing their fiery passion and emotional turbulence, the conveyor belts on which the performers move, reinforcing the frantic pace of modern life - technically, there's nothing to fault, and nothing else really to wish for. Large picture frames, well, frame memories that Lily has long compartmentalised and tidied away. The glass parts are actually translucent rather than transparent, softening the scenes behind them and misting them in the forgetfulness of time.

Few characters speak English - there's Lily and her dad, but her husband converses in German, the strange confessor in Italian, her mum in Spanish. Lily is the only one who seems to understand all of these different tongues, our anchor in what should be a bewildering mess of people and cultures. However in reality, the dialogue has clearly been written to be as understandable as possible to Anglo-only phones ("gut", "opzione", "demander", etc) - there are some very careful word choices. We know Lily's life is hectic and confusing, but her journey is easy to follow, even if you're not multilingual.

On the occasions where the language isn't similar enough to give it away, expressive performances allow you to guess at the meaning of the dialogue. As someone who has lived all over Europe, I found this show downright compelling from a linguistic point of view, but that sort of background isn't necessary to enjoy it. Missing isn't designed to go over your head or make you feel stupid: it's a production for the masses.

Although some of the characters have clear ethnicities, you could almost imagine the story unfolding in any major city. This is a piece which has toured far and wide, and you can picture many spectators trying to claim it for their own. Many people are often intimidated by dance, but this has such universal themes, by the end, you'll swear it's abut where you live, and about people with similar lifestyles, even if it's really not.

As well as creating some wonderfully moving moments, director Lahav mixes up the tone with some great touches of comedy. Lily and her husband failing to fall in sync when relaxing at home, Lily's dad trying to impress her mum whilst fondling a table in a way only ex-Apprentice candidate Simon Ambrose will relate to. They're only silly, fleeting things but very representative of the kind of transient moments from real life.

Missing is probably more physical theatre than dance, with the routines absolutely mesmerising, but the production as perfectly polished as it is, shouldn't be defined by the techniques shown, rather the basic ideas at its core. The devising performers - Roberts, Finkel, Evans, Perkins-Gangnes, Lahav and Francois Testory - have created an achingly poignant tale which underlines the importance of spiritual wellbeing in this crazy age.

There's a simple, distinct arc which isn't compromised by the plethora of special effects, as can often be the way. Rather, Missing is a highly accessible, stunning fusion of dance and storytelling which will nourish your soul. You'll find yourself drawn into this production, the 75 minutes whizzing by so quickly that you're left feeling a sense of loss that it's suddenly all over.

Missing opened on 4th March and was due to run until 21st March at the Battersea Arts Centre, but sadly due to the fire at the venue, the run closed early on 12th March 2015.

Nearest tube station: Clapham Junction (Overground, National Rail)

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