Devised by the company
Camden People's Theatre
'Hidden away on a council estate a geneticist has grown himself a son in a jar, in the hope that he can teach it to fly.' That's how the publicity describes this play which got nominations for both best ensemble and best devised production when it was seen earlier on the Edinburgh Fringe. Given its title the obvious assumption is that this is a reworking of the myth of Daedalus, builder of the Cretan Labyrinth who made wings for himself and Icarus his son, a son who flew too close to the son and fell to earth when the wax that held the feathers in place melted.
This is certainly about a father and son, the son is being tutored in a room stacked with what could be bottle fruit or organs in formaldehyde with a couple of wooden workbenches which seem to double as bunks. Since he's learning terms like DNA perhaps dad's a geneticist.
Icarus is put through a repetitive exercise routine of skipping, head stands and exercise to sharpen up reactions. He is regularly being weighed, measured and assessed. He is send out, protected by overcoat, gloves and a gas mask and with a rope tied round his waist, the other end secured to a workbench. Is it to stop him running away or to help find his way back (remember Ariadne's thread to lead Theseus out of the labyrinth). What is going on out there?
Returning he seems to have been scavenging food; sometimes it is real. On one occasion he's been attacked and has a bloody nose. His father says it is because he's different. His assailants seem to have taken his scavenging and the pretend food and father comforts son with a lullaby in which he tells him, 'I'll wrap you in feathers; you'll fly through the sky.'
While Icarus is out his dad has been experimenting with a model figure fitted with wings, subjecting it to wind from a fan and using an atomizer spray of water to simulate flying conditions and during the measuring process markings are visible on the boy's back: are they where wings are going to be attached or are they going to sprout there?
While at the same time exploring father-son relationships this does seem to be partly following the Icarus story. Then there is a change of direction. It is still a tale about a father who loses his son but the myth appears to be abandoned. What might have been an exploration of single parenting or developed into a statement of parental rights ends with a new and surprising image that might have been the beginning of a very different play.
Director Matt Ball has kept this confusing and unsatisfactory 55 minutes intriguing and performers Jamie Wood and Sébastien Lawson work well together, Lawson's Icarus reverting into childishness as his father urges him to manly tones and actions but I am baffled by its nomination for awards.
Daedalus training Icarus is an aspect of the legend that the Mangu Theatre from Iran presented at the Barbican last year in a piece of strong physical theatre, that had its own political and moral dimension. This CPT version - though I heard nothing in the actual text to suggest a council estate, appears to have set out to produce something growing from its neighbourhood and to present the experiences of fathers, especially those who have to give them up, but ends up only hinting at themes: it never attempts to develop them. You can't help feeling that it needs a writer to take these ideas and pursue them.
At CPT until 31st October 2009
Reviewer: Howard Loxton