Saturday, 5 July 2014

Icarus @ The Lowry, 03.07.14

Sometimes when you look up at the sky you get a glimpse of infinity, a notion of being a speck of nothingness out in the black night of the universe. Faced with this we try to fight it, try to do something that will write our name in eternity, never to be forgotten. We seek meaning and significance away from the comfort and security of home. It is this very human urge that is the subject of Icarus, a new play from Square Peg Theatre.

Even the most misanthropic and solipsistic among us would surely not wish to say goodbye to everything and everyone forever. But that is the proposition facing Anna (played by Katie Robinson) as she prepares to leave for Mars, part of a one-way mission to establish the first colony there. Her journey is reality TV meets Apollo 13, with the launch funded by the sale of television rights and the crew’s every move (and mishap) broadcast back to earth for all to see. Tensions mount, intimacies build up and break apart, while the existential crisis of facing infinity lurks ominously in every shadow.

There are many things to commend here; the actor’s movements were wonderfully languid and unrestricted, proving you don’t need wires, gadgets or gimmicks to recreate weightless space. Using cast members not involved directly in any given scene to hold objects, floating and bouncing them around, was a brilliant directorial touch from Michael White (who also wrote and acted in the play). The intercutting of past and present with newsreel, film and audio gave the story a feeling of permanence and momentum. The dialogue was believable, and the accents – American and Russian – were convincingly performed (a particular nod here to Dominic Myerscough, who played a Russian and an American with equal aplomb). It wasn’t all angst and eternity either, as the play was peppered with some cute one-liners that lightened the mood, as when Anna (watching Jaws for the first time) naively noted that, “They’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Based on the true story of an ongoing campaign to get a team of ordinary people to Mars, Icarus has power, celebrity, intimacy and intrigue in spades. Perhaps the only criticism one could level is that it failed to sustain its early momentum, tailing off somewhat at the end and leaning slightly too heavily on the profundity of quoted poetry rather than its own internal meaning.

The most touching moment came when Anna realised she’d never own a dog, a simple childhood dream that now could never be. It is these small things we miss when we leave home – of course we miss our family and friends, but somehow the minor details make it real. That’s the problem with leaving home to seek your place in infinity: what you actually discover is where you are from, and what was really meaningful all along.

Words: Andrew Anderson

Image: Courtesy of The Lowry & Square Peg Theatre

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