Threads of life

Lucy Ioannou plays Ariadne in Icarus, commonly a story of arrogant Icarus, who with his father escapes the labyrinth (from the legend of the Minotaur) on wings made of feathers and wax and fatally plunges to his death when, against his father's advice, he flies too close to the sun.

But there is more to it than a tale of hubris for Ioannou, the original she says is "…a beautiful tragedy," with a relevance to today that, "is very poignant because it talks about grief and the relationship between father and son and the sense of loss."

In mythology, Ariadne is linked to Daedalus, the father of Icarus, by a thread—literally—via the aforementioned Minotaur legend but she is not found in the Icarus story. How does she fit in, I asked:

"There's a very clear reason as to why she is in it [and] I don’t want to give too much away, but the play is about a father and son relationship, but again it's about relationships in general, and I think it is really important that we see it from both a male and female perspective.

"Ariadne is going through a sense of loss and a sense of grief trying to fill a hole; it's actually what quite a lot of people are going through. Personally, for me I lost my livelihood for a year and there seemed to be a void for a very long time, and my character goes through the exact same thing."

Putting the insertion of Ariadne in the context of Arrows' general approach, she says the company is not afraid of shifting things about such as a gender-swapped, re-worked Utterson in The Strange Case of Jekyll & Hyde, played incidentally by Ioannou who also took the title role in their award-winning CHAPLIN: Birth of a Tramp.

In Orpheus, McGregor has similarly "shifted things about," joining contemporary playwrights in moving the spotlight onto Eurydice. Traditionally, she is buffeted between the world and the underworld by the male protagonists, a character pivotal to the plot but without agency.

Ryall, who plays her, likes that the story is told from her perspective and is full of praise for McGregor. "Ross," she said, "has always, always written really well for women and makes a lot of his female characters. It's definitely not a surprise that some of the outcomes or opinions that the women offer in the shows are definitely not ones that you would normally associate with those characters—it's just brilliant!"

She describes the piece as having elements that make it more filmic than the other four, and a music video aspect to it in which, as a practised singer, she does her own vocals.

For Ryall, the story of Orpheus as we generally know it is about toxic masculinity and the inability for a woman to exist on her own terms outside of the need for a man or to appear as their own person. "Our version of Orpheus gives a rather different stance which I think is extremely important.

"I was in a deeply unpleasant relationship for a long time and it's almost as if you're unable to see exactly what it's doing to you, and I think the story has that element, even the original has that element to it."

Like the originals, McGregor's versions of the myths clearly say something about the human condition for their interpreters on stage to make such direct personal connections since Edward Spence, who takes the lead in Pygmalion, feels the same: "the last year has been very strange for a lot of people in terms of their personal and professional lives, and the play taps into a shared feeling of isolation and loneliness.

"When I read it, one of the things that struck me was how perfectly he [McGregor] captured this through Pygmalion, and I think I am not alone in saying I've felt it myself.

"In this version, rather than being a sculptor of marble, he is a sculptor of games, virtual realities and stories that other people play through. And as much as he creates worlds for others, that doesn’t necessarily translate to feeling personally fulfilled and it doesn’t necessarily translate into community.

"Pygmalion is an interesting examination of what it means to have a connection, to miss human interaction and long for it, and now we've hit a year of isolation and lockdowns, I think it is something that a lot of audience members will find relatable."