Reading about Philippa Lawford‘s award-winning play Ikaria, it seemed it was about love and madness. But this low key, frighteningly real drama is actually about the inwardness of mental illness, specifically depression. There is a link, though, apart from the affair we see begin as Mia comes on to Simon, the older and troubled undergraduate at an unnamed university with a public school background. As Shakespeare, no less, has it the ‘the lunatic, the lover and the poet are of imagination all compact’ in a great line from his great play about obsessive relationships, Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Here this is painfully borne out over an hour and a half of acting and writing so un-histrionic and true you feel you’re eavesdropping. After meeting at Film Soc, the couple spar a bit (The films were shit, he says confidently), chat a bit and set up a love affair that starts with her, continues with them, and ends badly, for both of them. It’s a tough subject but very well written with classical references woven in via Simon’s doomed attempt to gain a degree in the subject. He romantically quotes a favourite bit of Odysseus to her in his room, an untidy, foetid prison by the end. He lives in Ikaria House, named for the Greek island the architect favoured, and we gradually realize he is cocooned here, finding it difficult to even get out. Mia doesn’t initially get this, although one tiny criticism might be why she stays and supports the guy when it’s been flagged up to the audience that he really is not well. Simon even forgets, Freudianly, their first proper date, having announced he has booked them a Valentine’s day dinner in a restaurant. Mia is left waiting, gets angry but forgives him and returns to her long day’s journey with him into a semi-permanent night.
You could say Freud was the third actor, invisibly inhabiting the stage via tales of absent or inadequate fathers and his trademark slips.
Directed cleverly, and seemingly casually by the author, Simon ambles around his space, becoming paranoid over the gaze of the gym bunnies he can see from his window, and Mia acts as an acolyte. She fights to get her student journalistic career going, succeeds then falters as Simon challenges its worth. It’s significant that Mia only starts to reach potential when she and Simon briefly split. Her attempt at a reconciliation, and she is addicted to his need, was painful and well done.
At the end, as Simon prepares to quit the stage for good, we got more classical references. Circe this time; who turned men to pigs that drowned. So to continue with the old guys, did we gain some of Aristotle’s pity and fear? Yes, big time.
There was great acting from James Wilbraham and Andrea Gatchalian, maybe the bedding should have been dingy but the untidiness was convincing. The mood post-show was chastened.
Ikaria was performed at Accidental Theatre, and is currently on tour.