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'Kin' - Gecko @ Brighton Dome Corn Exchange

Last week, three of our writers took a trip to Brighton Dome's newly refurbished Corn Exchange to catch their reopening show Kin, by award-winning and internationally-acclaimed physical theatre company, Gecko.


Kin, described as 'a provocative story of desperation and compassion', was inspired by the story of Leah (Gecko's Artistic Director, Amit Lahav's own Grandmother) and her journey on foot from Yemen to Palestine in 1932, where she fled persecution in pursuit of a better life. Lucky for us, Amit himself was performing in Kin's Autumn Tour, supported by a cast of devising performers who each brought their own stories of migration to the creative process.


Were our writers moved to the core, or left hoping for more? Let's find out...



A production photo from Kin. A group of people from different ethnicities are stood in a group holding on to each other. All of them are wearing orange life jackets and appear to be breathing in deeply. The photo is in a frame which makes it look like it's been torn off of a piece of paper. Behind it are the rrramble colours: orange, pink and green.
Photo credit: Malachy Luckie


Georgia


A small precursor: This was my first time going to see a show on my own, and it surprised me what a strange, but not altogether unpleasant, experience it was. It felt odd not to have anyone to comment on the space's (very nice and newly-refurbished) ceiling to, or ask if I should go to the loo one more time before the show started (yes, always).

At first I did feel slightly awkward, and fought off the urge to turn to the people on either side of me and let them know that I do, in fact, have many very fulfilling and happy friendships. What a relief to remember that absolutely nobody cares if you're on your own. Everyone's far too busy trying to decide whether to go to the loo one more time.

Once the show started, all thoughts of the nice ceiling and my loneliness were left at the wayside. I semi-deliberately (and semi-because, ya know, life is busy) hadn't done much research about the content of Kin, other than what the (very beautiful) posters had told me. I was expecting a powerful story about migration - but to be honest, with very little experience of watching modern dance under my belt, I wasn't sure how much I'd be able to follow. On the few occasions I've attended those shows in the past, it's always been in the presence of a very knowledgeable friend (who has usually also been the one to buy the tickets and persuade me to come). Would I be able to pick up the narrative? Would I understand what the choreographer was trying to ~say~ through their movements?

The short answer is yes. Absolutely. In fact, probably more so than if Kin had been written as a standard scripted play. It felt hard to put into a category really - not quite dance, not quite theatre, not quite musical - or maybe more accurately, a bit of all three. The way passages of dance and song blended in and out of more standard 'acting' scenes (each performer speaking in their own mother-tongue, a very moving concept) helped move the story along, but also gave me a feeling of being privy to the inner workings of each character.

To say the story is inspired by a young woman (director Amit Lahav’s grandmother, we learnt at the show's close) on her journey from Yemen to Palestine is accurate, but also feels like it somehow sells the piece short. It was also about so much more than that. The word 'visceral' came to mind many times as I watched. I felt we were being given a very private glimpse into the physical toll war and displacement takes: What effect does trauma have on the way we move? How do our bodies inhabit spaces in which we are not welcome? How do our gestures convey meanings we cannot even begin to express through words? These were all questions I felt the show was trying to answer, and ask, through its choreography.

The lighting and sound were also absolutely incredible, with strobes and intense crescendos of sound building an already intense journey through hostility, despair and at times, hope. I left feeling exhausted: full of awe, desperation, anger, joy and humanity. If only instead of dear old Rishi's mandate that every child must learn long division, I could force everyone in the UK to sit down and watch this show.



A production photo from Kin. Four performers of different ethnicities dressed in black and white guard uniforms dance on stage, they're all holding beer bottles and have cigarettes in their mouths. They're all lifting one foot off the ground and leaning to their left.
Photo credit: Malachy Luckie


Callum


I first came across physical theatre company Gecko as a third year dance student in 2015. Their film, Time of Your Life, was shown as part of LIVE FROM TELEVISION CENTRE on BBC4 and since then, I’ve been hooked by the company and it’s ability to seamlessly weave storytelling and movement that speaks to something sub/consciously human. Kin was no different.


It’s hard to know where to start this review. Everything from the performances, staging and choreography, to the costumes, set and sound design was immaculate and I want to tell you everything! For your sake (and my editors), I am going to try and pick out my best bits.


Centred around the journey of director Amit Lahav’s grandmother, Leah, who fled from Yemen to Palestine with her family in 1932 to escape persecution, I felt Kin captured something in the movement that was not always present in the script: joy, mourning, violence, ritual and urgency.


The work opened with an almost instantaneous break of the fourth wall as the performers, dressed as guards, welcomed us into their world. There was something of a party atmosphere and semblances of a traditional concentric ring circle dance that dropped in and out of this section, balancing the movement language between past and present. In other sections, the front of the stage was lit, and to me resembled cliffs, casting the performers back and away from the audience to a little island all their own.


The humanity of the piece was most prevalent in the story arc of a family in a living room. Complete with rug, TV, heater, standard lamp and sofa, this is the narrative that for me was the most grounding. The living room became an anchor for the family and we witnessed the usual family struggles - getting the TV to work, eating dinner, welcoming friends and (I’m surmising now) cheering a football match - which deftly brought together the more choreographed movement with the pedestrian. As the narrative progressed and became more unsettled, the standard lamp became a beacon on an almost barren stage, the sofa was upended to become a barricade and the rug became a life raft delivering the performers downstage.


Special mention must go to the use of puppetry. Symbolising memory and family left behind, the puppets lit by lamps floating overhead and voiced by interview recordings, appeared and dispersed like threads of thought. These almost ethereal beings, often at odds with the grounded performers, brought a lightness and fragility to moments of the story that were the most gut-wrenching.


I could go on, there are so many notes in my notebook which I haven’t been able to fit into this review (maybe ask me over a G&T), so I’ll leave you the way the show left us. The performers all walking to the front of the stage and sharing with us a sentence or two of their lived experience of being an immigrant. The final performer to come forward introduced herself: ‘My name is Vanessa. I’m from Mexico. I am an immigrant, and the daughter of people of peace.’



A production photo from Kin. A Latinx woman is sat in darkness clutching a letter to her chest. A human-sized puppet depicting an old woman, operated by several people, is stood beside her, reaching out towards her face.
Photo credit: Malachy Luckie


Abbie


If there’s one way to describe Gecko’s Kin, it’s dance theatre rooted in feeling. Kin is performance where the emotion doesn’t feel like performance at all - where the gravity of the feeling births an urgency to share a story, and then directs the storytelling, like a blinding beacon. Kin is a show where, when it comes to an end, you are grateful to have been reminded of your own humanity, your own capacity to feel deeply, and your connectedness to those around you.


Kin, inspired by Artistic Director Amit Lahav’s personal familial stories of migration (and further informed by personal stories of migration and racism from devising cast-members), encourages us to carefully examine what we have been told to feel about migration and displacement - we’re looking at you, Suella Braverman - and to instead lead with empathy. In fact, the show oozes with empathy; and not only for sympathetic characters.


Within a short hour and twenty minutes on stage, Kin somehow manages to depict the entire spectrum of the human condition. One on hand, we see migrant stories which share pain, hardship, desperation, strength, resolve, and hope. We see those displaced from their home country maintain a sense of home in each-other - playing instruments, huddling round a small television set, celebrating, toasting. We see their commitment to the preservation of their culture and heritage, in the face of certain struggle, violence or death. We see them mourn, and we hear their bloodcurdling, desperate cries.


Kin also acts as a mirror for the worst of what we are capable of. At the border, we see a family (who have sought refuge many times, depicted earlier in the show) forced to assimilate with white, Western ideals in order to be allowed to cross. When one family member refuses to abandon their culture, despite the odds they face, they are killed by guards. Throughout the show, guards depict violence, hate, murderousness, intolerance, ignorance and greed. They are callous, mocking, and seem to revel in it with no repercussion - drinking, dancing and smoking their nights away.


Incredibly, all performers play both migrants and guards, seamlessly switching between roles throughout the show. One of the performers, Miguel Hernando Torres Umba, mentioned in the post-show talk back that one of the most challenging aspects of Kin is having to accept that we are each capable of many extremes - that we are capable of exhibiting qualities of both the oppressed, and the oppressor. Kin also cautions us that hate is learned and taught - one of the narratives within the show reveals to us how one of the brutal guards came to be through short, almost cartoonish sequences of a boy who is shaped into a soldier, molded through parental conflict and overbearing influence.

I may not have been able to follow each narrative clearly - Kin is winding and unruly, and Lahav's direction does not spoon-feed. It really didn't matter. Stunning, dynamic, gut-wrenching performances from the cast, with energy completely sustained at a peak throughout (and supported by a powerful score and detailed design), made any lost narrative details entirely irrelevant. The cast all speak in their native languages throughout, none of which I could comprehend, and yet I understood. Kin reminds us that, as much as we are told to fear or hate or disparage those who are different to us, we will always have more in common than they want us to know.




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