Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Daedalus and Icarus

Written, directed and designed by Homayun Ghanizadeh
Mungu Theatre Company
Barbican Pit
(2008)

Production photo

A variation on the familiar Greek myth, this hour-long Iranian production sees maze-maker Daedalus and his son Icarus themselves imprisoned in the labyrinth he made to house the Minotaur. The incoming audience discover them already in the theatre running hither and thither and hammering away at three metal constructions, which they continue to do for the first half of the play. Even those who do not know the ancient story of their flight from Crete would guess from their aviator's helmets and goggles and long coats that they are building is a flying machine. Their legs are encased in ringed stockings, giving a clown-like look which intensifies the zany way in which they conduct themselves, moving in straight lines with careful right-angle turns.

Daedalus has a big red whistle, the symbol of his authority, and when he blows it his son must circle the perimeter of the stage to reach a construction surmounted by a dome like a huge serving-dish cover and genuflect before it. Our first discovery is that someone or something has gone missing, not seen for fifty hours, and Icarus fears it may have died. It turns out to be a mouse called Mungu - the same name as the production company. When it turns up (in the form of a yellow tennis ball) he smothers it in kisses. He is also very attached to a little plant (a spiky metal twig in a pot). His father disapproves of such sentiment: he wants to open his son's eyes to the realities of the world. Hammering makes metal stronger, he believes, and hard knocks toughen you up for life, so he gives Icarus a hard time. "Who are the three kinds of person?" he repeatedly asks him, receiving the indoctrinated response: 1 - Those who obey orders; 2 - Those who don't obey orders; 3 -- Those who blow the whistle.

This is a play about who exercises power but it is also about responsibility, trust and cooperation. Daedalus clearly wants the best for his son and is cruel to be kind. He needs the boy to help him and as they go through various dangerous test procedures Icarus must put his safety in his father's hands - the actor also having to trust his colleague and the strength of his costume as he leans perilously into space from their Heath-Robinson contraption which is put together with the aid of four black-clad assistants who lurk motionless and almost invisible around the playing area, moving the same stylized pattern as the actors.

It is essentially a piece of sometimes funny, sometimes touching and often risky physical theatre but without the Persian dialogue or its English surtitle translation it would be easy to miss its point. Javad Namaki and Hamidreza Naeimi Jegarlouei perform with vitality and a droll charm that holds the attention as they complete their machine and take off into the skies on a journey in which it is not so much the wax of wings of myth as a self-identified wax personality that leads to tragic consequences.

Until 29th November 2008

Reviewer: Howard Loxton