Brutal but necessarily so, Philippa Lawford’s Ikaria is a stark and sobering watch at the Old Red Lion
“You just stayed in your room”
Student hook-ups in halls of residence are nothing new and in so many cases, nothing particularly special. But as Simon and Mia connect over warm lager and makeshift ashtrays in his dorm room, we quickly ascertain that not everything is quite alright here. She’s a fresh-eyed first year but he’s a third year redoing a year due to glandular fever as he explains and though they make a cute couple, it is far from the only way in which they’re on such different paths.
Philippa Lawford’s play Ikaria explores the journey of this pair over the course of a semester and covers multitudes even within these few short months. Her enthusiasm for uni life is unbridled and contrasts strongly with Simon’s worldweariness, she’s all about writing for the student newspaper whilst he’s struggling to get on with his dissertation and looking towards home, her state school education has prepared her for life in a hugely different way to his prep school.
We soon come to realise that it is something more than just chalk and cheese between them though, the looming spectre of depression is one that haunted Simon in the recent past and is still shaping his life now. And what Lawford does so skilfully is to depict the slow burn of Simon’s return to bad habits and Mia’s increasing realisation that all is seriously not well, and that her own life experiences might not necessarily equip her for dealing with this situation, much as she wants to help.
The play is blessed with two strong performers in James Wilbraham and Amaia Naima Aguinaga, able to slip into the ease of nervous young love with real commitment, even circumstances are pulling them apart. But it is Lawford’s direction that really stands out, making bold decisions to heighten the intensity of the subject matter as mental health, self-harm and more creep insidiously into the frame. Laurie Blundell’s sound design also expertly immerses us in the cold, harsh reality of this world, fully aware of its necessary power.