Review: Institute

Date: 16/11/2016

Institute feels timeless, yet it could hardly be more timely. As an exploration of work, modern pressures and masculine difficulty in dealing with life in the 21st century it’s an unusually male-focused piece of work: The Angina Monologues.

The narrative, such as it is, follows two functioning workaholics, Daniel and Martin as they attempt to negotiate work and relationships. But it’s more about struggling through than getting on. Occasionally they are assisted by their bosses, who employ metal rods to direct their movements when they seem almost physically unable to complete their work or control their own bodies.

It’s powerful and vaguely disturbing, even though the four men in the cast seem to be doing their best to help one another. They’re all prisoners of the situation in which they find themselves: the anxiety, the buttoned-up, creased-brow masculine emasculation feels suffocating. It’s communicated perfectly through physical movement and the meaningless gibberish spouted in work conversations that anyone will recognise.

institute-credit-richard-haughton-2

The fact the play is conducted in a number of languages – of which physical movement might be said to be one – is another intriguing element. It means Institute feels timeless, placeless. The set design, wardrobe and themes evoke Kafka, noir – using a variety of filing cabinets to construct a set that is both physical and metaphorical. A world in one office; the only reality.

The men’s breakdowns, therapy and mutual support find their expression in arresting, evocative movement. It’s perhaps the best way to convey the ailments of our time – anxiety and mental illness – and concerns most can empathise with: insecurity, a lack of personal worth.

It looks exhausting, overwhelming and it’s surely no coincidence that the rapid breathing ends with an exhalation that suggests contentment. Equanimity at least. The audience may feel the same way. Institute is at once a diagnosis, and a prescription for modern living.

Institute
Liverpool Playhouse
Until 19 November

• Images: Richard Haughton