Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Daedalus & Icarus, Barbican Centre

Review: Daedalus & Icarus, Barbican Centre

Published on Culture Wars, 28.11.2008

If Mungu Theatre Company’s chirpy retelling of Greek mythology is anything to go by, Iranian theatre is in good health. Playing in the Barbican Pit as part of the Iran: New Voices season, their Daedalus and Icarus is a fittingly inventive reimagination of Ovid’s epic poem that lies somewhere between Beckett and Hannah-Barbera.

Writer-director Homayun Ghanizadeh casts the aviators as wacky Wright Brothers, complete with goggles and ear-flaps, and gives a touch of Odd Couple dynamics in drawing on the oppositions between father and son to highlight the chasm between playful child and responsible adult. Nodding to clowning, but nearer to the goofiness of a live action cartoon, performers Javad Namaki and Hamidreza Naeimi Jegarlouei whizz and whir around the stage hammering on metal and baring blow torches. As they work noisily, Icarus is a bundle of distraction constantly wrist-slapped by his father’s piercing whistles, which enforce a rigid schedule. “There three types of people in the world,” Daedalus scolds – the third is always “those that blow whistles.”

Like the characters, Mungu’s production takes a long while to get off the ground, but having finally taken off, it soars. The metal structures form a swinging cockpit-like contraption, equipped with an industrial fan and four black-clad stagehands, and the two seem to genuinely take flight. They corkscrew, loop-the-loop and burst through shaving foam snowstorms in front of you. Suddenly, there is an electric fascination, edging on danger, and the journey becomes a whole narrative in and of itself, twisting and turning through the skies.

However, Ghanizadeh’s production struggles to wrap up the myth’s main function. Rather than melting the wax of wings by flying to near the sun, here Icarus turns joyrider once Daedalus has parachuted. While it works to modernize the story, the theatre of the moment falls out in comparison to the jubilant freewheeling of the flight. It all feels slightly anti-climactic.

Daedalus and Icarus delivers physical invention, witty and playful, well balanced by a tightly wound script (delivered in Persian with English surtitles). It might crash-land towards the end, but the flight itself is theatre at first class.

Photograph: Mungu Theatre Company

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