LOW LEVEL PANIC – Orange Tree

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by Ian FosterLeave a Comment

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.

Ian Foster on Twitter
Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."
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Ian Foster on Twitter
Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."