I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment on this because I am a man. According to this play all men are sex-obsessed pornography-devourers, devoid of sensitivity, totally lacking in respect for the female of the species, who can basically only grunt or whinge. Or … they have lovely abs, extraordinary six-packs, wear divine suits, drive Lamborghinis and take turns to make love to the same woman in an empathetic and entirely non-chauvinistic way.
This is Feminism with a capital F and the show is really a series of ranting monologues punctuated by what can best described as non-action in the form of unfunny routines around house-share ablutions.
The show, written in 1988, is extraordinarily dated. Director Pamela Schermann plays a around a bit at heaving it into the twenty-first century by providing the cast with smart phones and trying to convince us that “nothing has changed” but, in a play that, in essence, is about relationships and “getting men” (in both senses of the phrase) there is no mention of Tinder. You can’t have it both ways: either the production is an accurate historical document contemporaneous to its time or it is brought fully up to date.
Before the show I went in search of the toilets at the Bread & Roses Theatre and opened the door with the sign “bathroom” attached. Big mistake. It was the empty auditorium: outside the Edinburgh Fringe this is the smallest theatre space I have ever encountered and the tiny stage is set up as a bathroom – though as bathrooms go this is quite a roomy one. It has a traditional style iron bath (all the vogue now in gentrified Clapham but not in the ’eighties), a hand-basin, various overflowing bathroom cabinets, a bijou-size mirror used for comic, but unrealistic effect – there are three ladies sharing this bathroom, often all at the same time – and real water, though not running taps. Personally I could not get past the armchair in the bathroom: is this a thing these days? Or those days? It’s new to me. Apparently this is so that one girl can lounge in the bath whilst the other picks her feet in the chair.
More realistic, I would have thought, would have been to have included the absent WC on which people could perch (though the original stage note stated that one was not necessary).
When Tessa Hart, who plays Mary, lounges in the armchair she basically sounds like she’s doing a rather languid line-run. She’s a little more animated in her monologue about her assault by two of those wicked men when unchaining her bike – the bike though is thankfully off-stage not cluttering up the bathroom.
Rebecca Pryle struggles to get the humour out of the role of Jo with such an insipid reaction from Mary though she gives it a good go and would be much funnier with a positive response to bounce off. She is more fruitful with her self-fat-shaming fantasies-in-bubble-bath but the best scenes are between her and the upper-crust, clean-tub-fetishist Celia (Sassy Clyde) – there is some spark and energy between them and we get a little nearer to reality in their sub-catty exchanges than with the whiney, dreary, circular dialogue that characterises the rest of the play. Celia, a kind of Pretentious-Moi? diva in Marigolds, is a walking advert for Neal’s Yard and her menacing but misplaced tirade re bath-hogging finally gives us something to laugh at with its insight into real-life, if low-level, experience.
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The cast is well-served by the technicians in the show with the excellent set by Jo Jones, expertly lit in such a small space by Sound and Lighting designer Rachel Sampley and with effective costumes by Eve Merchant.
In the end the show left me cold with emotions wrinkled like Jo’s skin after lying around in the bath for so long. But then again, I’m a man.
Review by Peter Yates
Footnote: Playwright Clare McIntyre died, in 2009 aged 57, of multiple sclerosis. “Low Level Panic” was first produced at the Royal Court, directed by Nancy Meckler. In 2006 the play, directed by David Edgar, was given a rehearsed reading as part of “50 Royal Court Hits” celebrating 50 years since “Look Back In Anger”.
The cast included Maxine Peake – cf “Beryl”. Clare attended the reading in a wheelchair and received the audience’s warm applause.
Set in a bathroom, Clare McIntyre’s acclaimed and award-winning play is a bright, warm, sometimes wet and messy dark-comedy about three young women. Through its fearless comedy Low Level Panic explores female experiences in our world and the objectification, fear and challenges these young women face on a daily basis.
First performed at the Royal Court in 1988, Clare McIntyre went on to win the Samuel Beckett Theatre Award for the play the following year. With the increased influence of pornography through the internet and the still widespread sexist portrayals of women in the media, Low Level Panic often feels even more relevant nowadays than it was when originally written in the 1980s.
The in-house Bread & Roses Theatre Company returns after their first full scale production last year – a new adaptation of Miss Julie which went on to receive 5 star reviews – with another topical and innovative take on a groundbreaking play.
Tuesday to Saturday, 12th to 30th April at 7.30pm