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THEATRE: 19 JULY 2016

By JOHN ROZENTALS

Low Level Panic, by Clare McIntyre | Directed by Justin Martin

Red Line Productions & Thread Entertainment | Old Fitz Theatre (http://www.oldfitztheatre.com), Woolloomooloo, Sydney | Until 12 August

It isn’t often that I have any real issue with the promotional material published by Sydney theatres, but I was, on seeing the show, rather surprised by Old Fitz Theatre’s description of Clare McIntyre’s Low Level Panic: “Here is a careful examination of the role of pornography in our society and the way it affects three young women in particular.”

Sure, discussion of pornographic material does constitute a major part of the first scene, but McIntyre’s play is about much more than that.

It looks at even more substantial issues: at how society in general generates a particularly subservient, object-defined view of women and, more importantly, how so many men take that view as gospel and act accordingly.

Low Level Panic is set in the bathroom of a shared house, one which could easily sit in any major city, or, for that matter, largish town.

Three young women — Jo (Amy Ingram), Mary (Kate Skinner) and Celia (Geraldine Hakewill) — use that bathroom space to great effect, to discuss what’s happening in their lives, to philosophise about their problems, just to let off steam.

It seems to be where they can really be themselves. And that’s something that these three women, all I guess in their 20s, do very, very well. This is where they let go, warts and all.

All three carry some baggage — Jo with her weight and appearance, Mary with having been previously sexually assaulted, and Celia with a Nadal-esque obsession with setting up her kit, though in this case of beauty products rather than of re-energising drinks.

I gather that the Director, Justin Martin, has made some changes to McIntyre’s script.

What was originally a three-hander has been enhanced by seven pretty handily built young men, who take part in some scenes, especially the sexual-assault scene and the party/dance action of the second Act, help dress the women between scenes and reorganise the set, and, simply by sitting of the edge of the stage and leering, add a foreboding sense of malevolence.

There’s also, apparently, a much more blatant reference to the importance of social media, with quite extensive taking of selfies. And that generally works well, too.

Less effective is the introduction of a young girl, I gather as the child version of all three protagonists. This, to me, seemed clumsy and unnecessary. The play has quite adequate meat without this encumbrance.

This is an important work, well worth seeing and pondering, and I particularly thank my theatre-companion for helping me understand the intricacies of female shared-house living — especially the importance of the bathroom.

Thumbs up.

Above: Amy Ingram, Kate Skinner and Geraldine Hakewill. All images: Julia Robertson.

Amy Ingram.

Geraldine Hakewill.

Kate Skinner.