Amit is the founder and artistic director of Gecko, an award-winning physical theatre company that travels the world but creates all its ground-breaking work in Ipswich. Andrew Clarke caught up with him to discover how lockdown proved a positive experience 


Theatre-maker Amit Lahav, founder of the award-winning Gecko theatre company, travels the world creating spectacular, inventive, engaging, thoughtful shows. He is currently staging Kin, a piece of work about multi-generational families, migration and cultural identity commissioned by Rufus Norris at the National Theatre. 

Kin (which is touring the UK) came about after the family told stories of Amit’s grandmother, Leah, making the journey, largely on foot, from Yemen to Palestine in 1932. Before she died Amit was able to talk to her, to get the story first-hand of how the family escaped persecution to create a better life for themselves. 

But Amit doesn’t stage plays in the traditional, playwright-scripted, text-first, narrative sense. Instead he produces vibrant physical theatre – a theatre of ideas – which is born and is shaped in the rehearsal studio, later refined in performance over a number of years. 

These thrilling spectacles, including such shows as Institute, The Wedding, Missing and The Overcoat, have been seen in the great cultural capitals of the world – London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dubai, New York – but started life in Ipswich in small rehearsal spaces before being given their first public airing at the DanceHouse on Ipswich Waterfront. 

Amit and Gecko have been a keen players in the town’s cultural life, and have worked alongside the New Wolsey, Eastern Angles, DanceEast and Britten-Pears Music to share resources and ideas in an effort to put East Anglia on the map as a cultural centre. 

Amit and his family brought Gecko to Ipswich in 2008 having met up with Sarah Holmes, the then CEO of the New Wolsey, at a theatre conference in Bristol, where Amit was living. Sarah was understandably impressed with their unique and engaging performances, and invited Amit to bring Gecko to Suffolk and become an associate company of the New Wolsey. 

Since then Gecko has flourished. Amit has become increasingly ambitious in his staging, and as a result the company has struck out on its own - currently looking to build a own ‘Creation Space’ on Ipswich Waterfront. 

In 2015 Amit succeeded at giving Ipswich a national profile when Gecko opened an evening of live performance from BBC TV centre. Kirsty Wark introduced them as Gecko Theatre Company from Ipswich and the country then sat dazzled as Amit and his team delivered an entertaining, seamless dance/theatre piece called Time of Your Life. 

Amit says that physical theatre is a good way to discuss ideas and emotions because universal themes are easily expressed by movement. This kind of work can also open up to be performed anywhere in the world without translation – speaking to audiences regardless of language or culture. 

The Time of Your Life told the story of an ordinary man and the way he interacts with the modern world. Amit said: “He’s desperate to feel different and to find a real human connection in a world consumed by social networks and mass advertising.  

“During the performance the man embarks on a journey through rooms which illustrate different people and milestones in his life.”  

The rooms were transformed using intricate theatrical visual tricks rather than televisual special effects to underline the fact that this was a genuine live performance.  

He said that the BBC 4 On Stage evening gave Gecko its largest audience for a single performance.  

“It was an incredible showcase for Gecko’s work. It was a great opportunity for TV audiences to see new work that isn’t normally broadcast, and an amazing chance for us to fly the flag for Ipswich and Suffolk.” 

For such a creative company, it comes as something of a surprise that Amit’s hot house of invention is situated in a rather modest set of rooms to be found in a building set back from the traffic in Henley Road. 

This is where Kin, which has its first East Anglian performance at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on March 14-16, was first conceived. 

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Amit laughingly describes his production style as being rather akin to a ‘a benevolent dictatorship’ but he thrives on the input of his performers who he views as collaborators. 

He explains: “It is a dictatorship because someone needs to be in charge. I have the overall vision, but I don’t have all the answers, and a lot of the detail in the performances comes from the rehearsal process.” 

He adds that Gecko had a very productive lockdown because the team were in a bubble together and could rehearse and brainstorm Kin all day, every day without distraction. “Weirdly, lockdown happened at exactly the right time for us because we had just started work on creating this latest show. Had we been touring it would have been hell. 

“What we had to do was make sure that everyone was safe and then we just created a bubble and we just lived and worked together, cooked and slept in one place and got on with the making process.  

“If I am perfectly honest, it was the best making process I think we have had in 20 years – simply because there were no distractions. We were just focussed on this one thing.” 

He said that they were determined to work through the pandemic because they wanted to create something positive out of adversity. “Following the Battersea Arts Centre fire in 2015, where we lost all our sets and equipment, we learned that when there’s disaster there is also an opportunity to do something different – make something new – respond in some creative way.” 

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The rehearsal process is where the magic starts to happen. He encourages everyone in the company to come forward with ideas and emotionally invest in the show – but he, as the director, reserves the right to adapt some ideas and dispose of others if they don’t fit the overall structure of the piece. 

“You do have to be quite disciplined. If something is ‘wrong’ then you can’t hang onto it. “Rhythm is a massive part of Gecko. If the rhythm is wrong then you haven’t got a show, even though the individual elements of the show may be very good indeed.” 

He says that nothing is ever set in stone. “We were in China at one time performing The Overcoat and I changed three scenes. We had been performing it for three years but they just didn’t work any more. So, I changed them there and then. The show never settles – is never locked down.” 

He says that ideas can be born out of anything from something he has read or in the case of Kin – his own family history. 

“It’s taken three years of constant stitching and weaving, adding and subtracting to get the show ready for an audience. I spoke to my grandmother in Israel in 2017. “I asked her about the walk with her family to escape from Yemen and at that time she must have been around 90 (she never knew her age) and she was starting to live with dementia. 

“Given all that, and the fact that her English was very poor and my Hebrew is not good, it was a difficult and complicated conversation, but somehow we made it through. My cousins also chipped in other information, and later I spoke to historians about the situation at the time. It turns out that no one has any documentation of that journey, so it is totally an oral history.” 

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Using the narrative and emotional elements of the family stories, Amit was able to weave together a show that reveals the strength required to upsticks and make a new life in a new land. “I bring the story of my father’s mother to the piece, but also the story of my mother’s father who was among the Polish Jews who left Poland as Hitler came into power in Germany a short while later. 

“It a very complex story and needs to be treated with great care. It’s very much a human story rather than a dry history lesson.” 

Amit says it’s a huge honour to have a commission from the National Theatre. The artistic director, Rufus Norris, is a huge fan of Gecko and has seen several shows, and their relationship has been developing over the course of the last five or six years. 

“I first met Rufus when we were performing Institute at the Royal Opera House and we have stayed in touch. I think the commission finally came about because I was able to convince him that commissioning a Gecko show was not a risk. 

“We don’t have big names or do well known shows. Everything we stage is created by us, so he needed a little gentle persuasion to commission something for their big theatre spaces. Thankfully he already loved what we did and I said: ‘What is the National Theatre? It’s the home of storytelling and we tell stories. You don’t have to worry about audiences because we have a huge following with young people. We’re on the National Curriculum, when we performed at the Barbican last year we flooded the place, so audiences won’t be a problem’ and so he could relax.” 

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He says audiences are reporting that the experience is emotional but deeply cathartic, and provides lots of material for post-show discussions. 

In addition to creating new shows Amit is also looking to create a new home for his company down by the Ipswich Waterfront. Original plans to develop a new headquarters and rehearsal space for Gecko were put on hold after it was discovered that the existing structure they wanted to use, which they had hoped to be able to incorporate into the new structure, was not sound enough to use. 

Gecko is now looking, with the help of Ipswich Borough Council, for a new site in the vicinity to build a purpose-built ‘Creation Space’ from the ground-up. 

“Happily our relationship with the borough council is very strong and they have been with us every step of the way and they very much want this to happen. Unfortunately, the development of the site next to DanceEast wasn’t economically viable and now we are looking elsewhere. 

“We also have the support of The Arts Council – even with the trials of the pandemic both our financial supporters are still there. Happily, we have been given another site in West End Road on the waterfront. 

“We still have the financial backing and now we have to sit tight and wait for architects, planning permission and all that.” 

He said that the new building will provide them with the opportunity to reach out to a wider audience. “The new space is absolutely fundamental to our work that will created during the next 20 years. We are already making work for The National and the Barbican but we want to do more. We want to make premier work that travels round the world.” 

He also sees the new Creation Space as somewhere which can develop Gecko’s already thriving community and education work. 

Buy tickets for Gecko’s new production, Kin, at Norwich Theatre Royal from