Uroborus, a small piece of street theatre for Glastonbury Festival first brought together a group of professionals to devise new work under the name of Daedalus. While it was an unpaid job, it signalled a move from the group’s previous incarnation as a student company.
But it was not until The Arches, Glasgow, commissioned Selfish that Daedalus gained a clear artistic identity. This is based on tackling big issues with an open-minded, research-led devising process, and all elements of the production being given equal weight. This was followed by the creation of Out of Nothing at the Junction, Cambridge, and then a London revival of Selfish, at Camden People’s Theatre.
Initially based in Harlow, Essex, from where Selfish and Out of Nothing were developed, the company then moved to East London. Camden People’s Theatre commissioned A Place at the Table, which added another crucial dimension to the company’s working practice, bringing together experts on Burundi and members of the community with interest in the African Great Lakes region to create a piece of theatre that revolved around discussion. Audience and actors sat round a table and the performance led everyone into eating, drinking and talking together. It later went to Southwark Cathedral and Amnesty International UK’s Human Rights Action Centre.
In terms of engagement with audiences, experts, research material and wider society, A Place at the Table set out our aspirations for future work. We’re now building on that with East, a storytelling project for residents of East London, and our current show, Mobile Incitement.
As part of our growth as an organisation, Daedalus was constituted in 2010 as a company limited by guarantee. We then gained charitable status in 2015.
A brief pre-history
As mentioned above, Daedalus goes back further than Uroborus. It had a previous life as a student company which specialised in neglected scripts, such as The Ascent of F6 by Auden and Isherwood, and Yeats’s On Baile’s Strand and The Death of Cuchulain, along with forays into contemporary work such as Howard Barker’s A Hard Heart and the premiere of Ching Fang’s My Name is Rage. You can see some posters here.
In Greek mythology, Daedalus was the inventor of the labyrinth which contained the Minotaur: perhaps this is a fitting image for artistic creativity, perhaps not. He is also credited with many other achievements, including creating a wide dancing-ground for Ariadne. Interestingly, the original idea of a labyrinth is thought to have evolved from a complex dancing path inlaid in a floor. Perhaps it’s pushing it to suggest that Daedalus therefore invented scenography, but it’s a nice thought.
He had a somewhat tragic life, most notably losing his son Icarus while escaping Athens. They were fleeing because Daedalus had killed his nephew, who was proving to be the more ingenious craftsman, so it’s a typical Greek universe-provides-cruel-but-appropriate punishment story. Famously, and in a similarly karmic vein, Icarus flew too close the sun and melted the wax holding the feathers to the wings his father had made.
Daedalus is celebrated for many inventions and innovations, including carpentry, and was thought to have made the numerous wooden cult figures that could be seen around Greece in Classical times. Pausanias certainly thought so:
All the works of this artist, though somewhat uncouth to look at, nevertheless have a touch of the divine in them.
That’s something to aspire to. For what experimental theatre practitioner could ask for greater praise than that?