“Incredibly raw characterisations portraying mental health”

Tightrope Theatre brings their production of Ikaria to the Theatr Clwyd for a short run as part of its tour around UK venues. Ikaria tells the love story of finding salvation in somebody else. Written by Phillippa Lawford, we hear the story of Simon, a struggling student who returns to university after taking a year out. He then meets Mia, a first year who’s ready to take the student lifestyle in her stride. 

From the outset, the actors are flawless in their execution of portraying the awkwardness that comes from first meetings, with forced conversations and awkward jokes that sets an initially light tone to the play. There is an incredible connection between the two actors (James Wilbraham and Andrea Gatchalian) as they are completely drawn to each other.

Andrea Gatchalian (Mia) perfectly captures the characterisation of a young and naïve student, away from home for the very first time. It’s bittersweet to watch her character arc develop from a nonchalant and upbeat individual, to an individual who is completely lost and helpless. In contrast, James Wilbraham (Simon) initially appears to be confident and carefree, giving Mia advice on student survival tips whilst hilariously handing her a big stash of Dominos vouchers. However, through his subtle acting, it is completely obvious that he is struggling internally with poor mental health. Throughout, Wilbraham has an incredible talent in demonstrating raw characterisations of mental health and it is clear that he has studied the physical symptoms and the way he portrays them as his mental health declines is subtle, yet effortless. 

Upon entering the auditorium, the stage is set up exactly like you’d expect a student’s bedroom to look like. With an unkempt bed, a desk with a stack of books and an ever-growing pile of laundry that completely captures the essence of a struggling student. Lighting is used effectively well, with warm colours to represent the happier times and blues to represent the more solemn times. There’s a really effective moment towards the end of the play in which Simon’s mental health is deteriorating. Here, James’ incredible acting is complimented with a pulsating light which grows until it becomes completely overwhelming. Sound design is key in complimenting this piece of theatre, with sound effects of doors slamming and the general hustle and bustle of student accommodation. Solemn musical interludes support the scene changes well.

Phillippa Lawford must be commended here for writing a piece of theatre that is incredibly stark and somber, not shying away from getting really deep. Direction of this play allows the actors to fully demonstrate their thoughts without saying a single word, and the actors do a tremendous job of creating intense and thought provoking moments with just their actions and gestures. This play is cleverly directed to show the impact of serious mental health, in which the moments of complete joy and serenity can be completely overcome by a sudden darkness.

However, whilst the first act is completely punchy and impactful, the second act seems to get a little lost in translation. Whilst James still does an incredible job of portraying a serious decline of mental health, the direction just seems slightly scatty and a bit all over the place. The play concludes abruptly with a blackout and the lights go up, leaving the audience confused and looking around to see if we should clap. 

Overall, Ikaria is an incredibly raw and brutal exploration of mental health struggles, supported by an incredible cast and lovely theatrics that perfectly contribute to the storytelling.

This show was reviewed on the 19th September 2023.  Ikaria runs at Theatr Clwyd until the 20th September 2023.  Tickets available here: Ikaria | Theatr Clwyd.

Full tour details here: new — Tightrope. (tightropetheatre.co.uk)

Review written by Vicky Humphreys


Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

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