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The Theatreguide.London Review

Low Level Panic
Orange Tree Theatre  Spring 2017

A comedy with a surprisingly dark core, Clare McIntyre's 1988 play offers a view of modern women's lives whose sadness lingers as the laughter fades. 

The three twenty-something roommates of McIntyre's cast are seen only in the bathroom of their shared flat, generally either preparing for or returning from a night out. 

Despite the believable and refreshing ribaldry of women alone, the strongest sense we get is that all three define themselves and their worth through men's eyes. 

Slightly overweight Jo (Katherine Pearce) wishes she was tall and thin (and therefore glamorous) and dreams of being carried away via limousine or yacht by a rich, exotic and faceless admirer, though her imagination doesn't extend beyond the start of that journey. 

Even her masturbation fantasies never quite reach sex, peaking with the thought of being desirable and desired. 

Mary (Sophie Melville) is obviously as fascinated as she is repelled by a porn magazine she found, and the recent experience of being gang-groped leaves her wishing she were less attractive to men, afraid even to wear a modest party dress to a party. 

And Celia (Samantha Pearl), the only one of the three to actually hook up with a man at that party, seems to have no personality or identity beyond that accomplishment. 

Much of the humour of the play lies in the women's wavering attitudes toward sex. At moments they sound like pre-adolescents talking in hushed frightened-but-fascinated tones about the mysteries of 'doing it' while at other times they seem prematurely jaded, having somehow skipped over the stage of being able to enjoy life. 

Director Chelsea Walker and the three actresses capture the hothouse atmosphere of these women's unrelenting pressures while still finding all the jokes, and skilfully navigate the constant shifts in tone and depth of feeling. 

The image of accomplished young women of the 1980s still defining themselves entirely through men and still somewhat captive to (and legitimately frightened by) the objectifying male view is a surprising one. But, as nothing in the play seems dated, there is no reason to believe that much has changed in thirty years. 

I have no doubt that every episode and emotion in the play will resonate for women in the audience, and that men will find much that is sobering amidst the laughs.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Low Level Panic - Orange Tree Theatre 2017

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