Politics still stuck in the Eighties

26 February 2008

Low Level Panic, Corpus Playroom, 19-23 February, 21:30

Two stars

Reviewer Elizabeth Davis

In the influential feminist work, The Feminine Mystique, Betty Freidan wrote ‘it is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself’. Clare McIntyre’s play Low Level Panic has at its heart three women’s attempts to become complete: as Amelia Viney’s Jo puts it, to ‘be someone’. Undeniably feminist in tone, the play nevertheless fails to contribute anything new to the issues it deals with: it is so rooted in the eighties that it refuses to be dragged into the twenty-first century by director, Robyn Hazel Hoedemaker. The objectification of women, the pressure to be perfect and the guilt associated with feminine sexuality have all been dealt with before, better: McIntyre’s subject matter seems composed almost exclusively of worn and predictable clichés. Nevertheless, it is disturbing that the modern men’s mag Zoo fits seamlessly into this time capsule of a play.

The three characters seldom rise above stereotype: Emily-Jane Swanson’s Celia begins and ends with her perfectly coiffured hair and though the character of Mary is more sympathetic, Brooke McGowan’s interpretation fails to give her more than one dimension. It is Amelia Viney’s Jo who entertains: despite the fact that her character is as predictable as any of them (‘I mean, do I look attractive in this?’), her monologues are genuinely engaging and touching in their unadulterated normality.

Hoedemaker made an intelligent choice in staging Low Level Panic in the playroom, whose intimate atmosphere chimes perfectly with the bathroom setting. Furthermore, she ensures that there is no question as to when the play’s set: whether it’s the Soft Cell music playing as the audience comes in or the leggings which hug Mary’s legs, we are not allowed to forget that this play is set twenty years ago. Though this is competently done, it contributes to the overall failure of the play to engage. There is too much of a barrier between the stage and the audience: finding the three women one dimensional the audience is able to distances themselves from the issues dealt with and the play fails to make an impact.

That is not to say that the issues are no longer relevant: they emphatically are, but by placing Low Level Panic so firmly in the past, Hoedemaker implies that this debate belongs there too. Many of the weaknesses of this production lie with the play itself but Hoedemaker does nothing to avoid or resolve the problems inherent in McIntyre’s script, and as such Low Level Panic fails in its principle objective and contributes nothing to the ongoing struggle for gender equality.