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Talking Gods: Icarus – Arrows & Traps

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writer and Director: Ross McGregor

The final part of Ross McGregor’s Talking Gods, five plays updating mythology for present times, may be called Icarus, but in fact the show is a two-hander between the boy who flew too close to the sun and Ariadne, the goddess who helped Theseus in the labyrinth built by Daedalus, Icarus’ father. However, McGregor doesn’t follow the narrative too closely and instead creates a gripping mystery exploring familial ties and space travel.

We meet Icarus talking about the games he used to play with his father. McGregor’s script is full of detail that would be more at home in a novel if it weren’t so beautifully evocative of childhood and delivered so sympathetically by Adam Elliott. We can almost see Daedalus standing in front of us with his worn trousers searching for worms with his son. There’s sly humour too when Icarus recalls that his father wore Aramis aftershave, named after one of The Three Musketeers perhaps, but suggestive of Greek heroes nevertheless.

The story unfolds quickly, and within ten minutes three interwoven strands appear. The first is the most personal in that Daedalus has been killed, but Icarus tells us more about the funeral – again with descriptions so precise the scene easily opens out in our imagination – than the particulars of his father’s death. The second strand pertains to the trials of Zeus and Dionysus, convicted of sex crimes and murders, which, as a journalist, Icarus is covering. The last plotline is an enigma; how will McGregor get Icarus into the air?

Elliott is perfect as the grieving son, drawing us into his tale completely. Some shots last a few minutes, while others are cut with different camera angles, but neither approach detracts from Elliott’s masterful delivery. So convincing is he that it is a shame when Ariadne turns up, chipper and bright compared to Icarus’ gentle melancholy. Ariadne’s world, very much like ours with lockdowns and government briefings, shatters the fictional one of Icarus. Possibly, McGregor is trying to make Ariadne’s world relatable to us, but in fact we are more at home with Icarus in a city that doesn’t seem affected by the problems that plague Ariadne.

In another layer of self-reflexivity, Ariadne is an actor, appearing in unpopular shows on the fringe, that is, until national quarantines begin. There are a few nice flourishes, but her story detracts too much – reveals McGregor standing on a soapbox – when the story is key here. Lucy Ioannou is excellent as Ariadne who is resolutely optimistic and always acting even if she doesn’t need to, but Ioannou is even better when she’s allowed to show Ariadne as troubled and thoughtful and yet unguarded. When the stories of Icarus and Ariadne merge, McGregor’s script returns to its early glory, and the last 30 minutes are as spellbinding as the first.

With some expertly chosen music, this tale of Icarus soars, and while this show will awe a live audience in a theatre, it suits the screen perfectly. McGregor, along with Elliott and Ioannou, have sailed past the sun and survived.

 Available here from 7.30pm 9 April along with Persephone, Orpheus, Pygmalion and Aphrodite 

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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