The Pit, London EC2
Opened 25 November, 2008

Things did not begin well. My sometimes violent experiences in Edinburgh this summer have rather lowered my tolerance of percussive metal-bashing as a theatrical device, so my heart hardened on finding Javad Namaki and Hamidreza Naeimi Jegarlouei hard (or at least noisily) at work with steel hammers on a trio of steel-framed structures as the audience entered. To my relief, things let up after a few minutes (but not few enough) as the play proper began.
Homayun Ghanizadeh and his Tehran-based Mungu Theatre Company kick off an Iranian mini-season of theatre, cinema and discussion at the Barbican with this Beckett-meets-Heath-Robinson vision of the Greek inventor and his son, working to escape their imprisonment by King Minos in the labyrinth Daedalus himself had designed. (There’s an agreeably silly running joke with Icarus voicing the echo on the word “labyrinth... -rinth... -rinth”.) The performance style is that of gentle clowning as the pair, clad in aviators’ helmets, goggles and stripey knee-socks, march or lollop across the stage between their various assemblies; however, the relationship has elements of master/servant, sergeant/private and even Endgame’s Hamm/Clov as well as simple father/son: the older man insists that things always be done properly, i.e. according to his programme, with no time for his son’s imaginative life. (Another running gag keeps dividing the world into three kinds of people: those who do A, those who do B and those who blow whistles – no prizes for guessing how Daedalus orders Icarus around.)
So far, so undistinguished. The hour-long show takes off more or less when the characters do: they slot their frames together to make a crazy contraption of steel and industrial fans, balanced on a central pole, which a quartet of black-clad stagehands manoeuvre around the stage and make its pilots execute crazy pitches and even 360-degree rolls. The exhilaration of flight combines with some edgy self-satire as they consider crashing the machine into Minos’ palace and thus becoming the first airborne suicide bombers in history. In the end, Daedalus jumps to safety on a feathered parachute from the vehicle he had not designed to land, and Icarus remains in the sky, the boundless space of imagination which is his natural element. If Ghanizadeh went further and deeper, the content would match the impact of his crazy directorial and design vision.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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