Orange Tree Theatre, London – until 25 March 2017
“When am I going to wake up and be different?”
How far we’ve come since the 1980s. Or have we? That’s the thread going through Chelsea Walker‘s production of Clare McIntyre‘s 1988 play Low Level Panic, an insight into the lives of three housemates in their 20s. Dialogue heavy but conversationally acute, we eavesdrop on these women in their bathroom, sharing confidences, fantasies, stories of what it is like to be a woman in a society that continually objectifies their sex.
It may be nearly 30 years old but there’s a sinking awfulness about how recognisable so much of this is. Sexual politics in the workplace, internalised self-loathing, the effects of porn, the looming spectre of sexual assault, McIntyre covers a wide range of issues but approaches them with the complexity they deserve – her protagonists’ reactions to them are nuanced and varied and in Sophie Melville, Katherine Pearce and Samantha Pearl‘s performances, deeply compelling.
Melville’s Mary is an elemental force, retelling the story of her assault with pained precision and a thudding guilt that she might have been asking for it because her work skirt was so short. And as her best friend, Pearce’s Jo is superb in her insecurities, as the intersection of her concerns with her weight and attractiveness play out. Through laughter and tears, outrage and compassion, they carry the show.
Pearl’s Celia suffers by comparison due to be being underwritten and there’s a couple of details more widely that stick out, most notably Jo’s reaction to the news of her friend’s assault. But so much, too much, of Low Level Panic resonates with lingering truth for it not to be an intelligent and well-considered revival.