Experimenting with design: creating Gecko's wedding dress dystopia
Amit Lahav, artistic director of Gecko, explains the design behind the company's seventh production ''The Wedding''
We are all married, bound by a contract.
But what are the terms of this relationship? And can we consider a divorce?
These were the questions I asked myself when I started to create Gecko's seventh touring production. Set in a dystopian world in which we are all brides wedded to society, The Wedding brings the many contracts of modern life into question in emotionally charged performance in Gecko's trademark style.
All Gecko shows start with a ‘seed idea' which is based upon how I feel about the world, and my place in it. For The Wedding, this sprung from feeling angry and disempowered. This seed idea or feeling gradually turns into a metaphor, and that is when the designing and development of the show starts to happen. Weddings are the metaphor for this show – feeling like you're in a marriage that you don't want to be in, where you didn't agree to the terms of the contract. From the very first stages, I began to imagine everyone as brides, wedded to society and from this sprang the idea to have all the performers wearing wedding dresses.
More time than usual is prioritised in technical rehearsals on and off stage
The design element of Gecko's productions starts right from day one and is thought about and developed simultaneously with all other elements of the show; storyboarding, choreography, characters and the musical score. Rhys Jarman is Gecko's longstanding designer, and has collaborated with me on Missing, Institute, The Time of Your Life and The Wedding and worked with Gecko associates Rich Rusk and Chris Evans on the design for The Dreamer (Gecko's international co-production with Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre). Rhys turns my initial thoughts and feelings into tangible ideas which allows the physical world of the show to be developed.
As Rhys put it: "A large portion of the design process happens during rehearsals with prototypes of design elements. The design emerges out of these experiments. It changes when discoveries are made and continues to change as the show evolves and is more formed. More time than usual is prioritised in technical rehearsals on and off stage allowing space for the design to be tested with a full technical complement. This means that the design of The Wedding is built into the structure of the piece and the technical elements of the show go hand in hand with each visual image."
I aim to keep all shows open to interpretation and put the audience at the heart of the narrative
A key theme within The Wedding is the notion of contracts; what does it feels like to be contracted in and to ‘belong' and contrastingly, what does it feel like to be excluded from a contract or agreement? The stage itself is a manifestation of this idea, represented by different levels and sections to the stage. The main playing space where the majority of the characters ‘live' is a raised, circular platform representing society. There is then a section of forestage which is somewhat of a ‘no man's land' which is inhabited by a family of immigrants who find themselves marginalised from society. There is then a third level to the set which is a raised platform at the back of the stage which is occupied by characters in a seemingly privileged position and for whom the usual rules of this dystopian marriage do not seem to apply.
I was very unclear about how to represent this privileged world physically during the show's initial tour in spring 2017. In the summer of 2017 this element of the show was re-written with Rhys, and the version you see today emerged. A very tall table, just under 3m, draped in a white tablecloth with a feast laid on top – platters of all sorts of food and bottles of drink. The table is also a usable apparatus in which the performers climb, cling onto and dangle off. All the characters in the show seem to aspire to be on this raised platform, and part of this detached world that observes those in the world below.
I aim to keep all Gecko shows wide open to interpretation, and to put the audience at the heart of the narrative. It's a fine line between representing my ideas and vision clearly, and leaving space in the designs for the audiences to interpret their own voyage through the narrative! But hopefully one we have achieved with The Wedding.
The Wedding runs at Bristol Old Vic from 17 to 20 January ahead of a UK tour.