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Amit Lahav’s powerful play Institute is at HOME, Manchester until Saturday 22nd October.
By Charlie Jordin
The performance takes place on a dimly lit stage surrounded by towering rows of drawers and filing cabinets. Four men adorn the claustrophobic stage, each dressed in suits and barefoot and each seemingly mentally struggling in different ways. Whether it is a dystopian vision of an office or a treatment room for a support group of emotionally damaged men is unclear, yet an explanation is unnecessary as the performances are so powerful in their depictions of four men struggling with their mental health.
The incredibly physical performances of the all-male cast takes full advantage of the minimalist set, with the drawers and filing cabinets climbed upon and danced around. The energetic choreography transcends language, powerfully communicated what each character is experiencing through dance. The props at times physically restrict each character, expressing the strain their mental well-being is having on their lives, much as those suffering from mental illness find everyday tasks more challenging.
The drawers symbolise how men in particular feel the need to hide their problems; memories, props and even characters are pulled out of the drawers. Memories are repressed in the drawers and characters relive painful reminiscences by peering inside the drawers. The use of the drawers, an everyday object, reflects how confronting mental health is inevitable and inescapable.
The wild and expressive musical accompaniment to the performance perfectly encapsulates the tense and unpredictable environment in which this play takes place. The immersive acoustics of HOME creates an intimate relationship between the actors and the spectators, with the audience able to hear each breath the characters take, as if they were on stage with them.
This performance boldly draws upon important discussions that should be addressed within society. The play confronts our failings in supporting the mentally ill, the stigma surrounding it and the fragility of masculinity. The most common cause of death in men under 35 is suicide, with men much less likely to seek help. This struggle to seek care is addressed in the play as the men seem reluctant to come to terms with their emotions and accept each other’s help in fear of seeming weak. The play refuses to give answers and is an enigma in the same way that mental health is, something that can never be fully understood.
Institute is part of HOME’s drama season and tickets are currently available for Friday 21st October and Saturday 22nd October performances. Visit the HOME website for details.