Unicorn Theatre, London – until 10 March 2019
A first-rate piece of children’s theatre, this retelling of the familiar myth (by playwright Katrin Lange, directed by Cressida Brown) challenges a young audience to reflect on whether to believe everything they’re told. Icarus, eldest son of the master builder Daedalus, leaves his mother and younger siblings to go in search of his father, from whom nothing has been heard since he went to Crete to work for King Midas.
The play (originally in German by Katrin Lange) is full of wonderful hat-tips to the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (a knitting pattern, rather than a thread, holds the secret to the labyrinth), but completely reworks the tale, casting Icarus as the labyrinthine adventurer, and the Minotaur as anything but the villain. Icarus’ famous flight remains, but does not overshadow his heroism, and the ending is a happy one, courtesy of a slightly bizarre singing chorus of an octopus and some dolphins.
As former artistic director of the Unicorn Theatre (2011-2017), translator Purni Morell clearly knows her audience, and the language in which she chooses to tell the tale is simple, but compelling, and it is often easy to forget the age of the target audience.
The set design (Lucy Sierra) is first class, taking us to a wonderfully brutalist concrete Crete (no pun intended?) which acts both as a fitting setting for a dictatorial Midas and as the imposing labyrinth. This is heightened by successful and somewhat playful lighting design (Ziggy Jacobs-Wyburn) and an atmospheric but entirely modern original score (Jon McLeod).
Supported by strong performances from Rayxia Ojo as Ariadne, Selva Rasalingam as Daedalus and Arinder Sadhra as Xena, Marshall Defender Nyanhete’s leading performance as Icarus is entirely captivating. His small stature, huge eyes and well-observed mannerisms mean that he is utterly convincing as a young child. This contributes to his excellent rapport with the kids in the audience in some brief moments of interaction (despite some near unforgiveable attempts at dabbing).
Casting a child (via a recording) as both the narrator and the Minotaur adds a wonderful dimension, and again captures the younger members of the audience in a way that perhaps an adult could not. The only slight jar is the portrayal of the evil King Midas, with a Dalek-esque voice changer, which feels decidedly Not For Adults.
This show is marketed towards the 8 – 12 age range, and gauging from reactions on the night it reaches that audience very well. However, in its engaging tale, clever design and in the lead’s captivating performance, there is plenty to delight the adult.
[Images: Camilla Greenwell]
Icarus is on until 10 March https://www.unicorntheatre.com/Icarus