Thursday 10th November 2022 at The Old Red Lion Theatre Pub, London.
Reviewer: Emma Dorfman
Note: some mild spoilers follow. TW: references to depression, self-harm, suicide, and suicidal thoughts/ideation.
In recent years, I’ve grown quite sceptical of the two-hander “uni hook up” play. It’s always the same thing: the Gen Z couple that can’t quite define the relationship, the “I don’t care” demeanor, the occasional red solo cup and the overall mess of a tiny undergraduate dorm room. IKARIA doesn’t shy away from these tropes (there’s still the romance, the general partying, the obvious pig sty that instantly establishes the character of a uni boy’s room). Still, it does present a refreshing take on just about all of the above through a searing portrait of what it means to care and what it means to have that care rejected.
In IKARIA, we meet Mia (Amaia Naima Aguinaga) and Simon (James Wilbraham), who are obviously about to move into a whirlwind romance. How they get from point A to point B, however, is not so obvious. Part of this has to do with Wilbraham and Aguinaga’s brilliant moment work. Both actors have an electric connection that fills every silence and awkward kerfuffle. Part of this also has to do with Simon’s looming depression. It’s evident that something has happened since he left uni last term, though we’ll never figure out precisely what it is. Thanks to Philippa Lawford’s brilliantly pointed writing, though, we understand what happened without the character telling us directly.
The underlying subject matter of the piece (depression, self-harm, suicide, and suicidal thoughts/ideation) is expertly handled through small, yet effective, artistic gestures. Lawford and Izzy Parriss’ direction allows for space in between particularly hard-to-watch moments. One instance, in which Simon figures out how to self-harm whilst shaving, sticks out in particular. Here, director and writer do not shy away from silence, space, breath, and feeling. In turn, this allows space for the audience to fully experience the intensity of the moment, realise its gravity, and breathe through it.
As painful as it may sound, I personally believe that theatre could benefit from quite a few more moments such as these. Additionally, Shane Gill’s lighting design is an ideal complement to Lawford’s writing, as it suggests more than it could possibly put into words. The most notable instance comes toward the end of the play, in which Simon grapples with the pulsating light. It creeps up on him, begins to grow, and then slowly overwhelms him as if it were another character or villain in the story.
There is so much that is devastating about a piece like IKARIA. It is not just about the individual journey that Simon goes on as he slides into a deep depression, but it’s also just as much about Mia’s willingness to help Simon—how her capacity for care is ultimately her downfall. In one of the piece’s final moments, Mia informs Simon that she has become concerned enough to reach out to his mom (a big no-no previously expressed by Simon). It only takes one pointed look from Wilbraham to tell us this is all over. And when Simon shuts her out, we can only guess what will happen next.
In the end, it seems like the events that follow were out of everyone’s control, including Mia’s. As much as she wants to, she can’t reverse what’s been done, which is doubly painful. How can we help those we love and care for when they refuse our love and care? And what position does that leave us in? Are we responsible? Not liable? Coping with that dilemma is likely just what’s at the heart of this piece.
Ikaria plays at the Old Red Lion Theatre, London until November 19th 2022 – you can find more information and tickets here.