Low Level Panic at the Orange Tree Theatre
Given the current climate, where women march around the globe to protest a misogynistic POTUS, the Orange Tree Theatre’s decision to stage the first major revival of Clare McIntyre’s Low Level Panic is as savvy as it is necessary.
There’s no real plot to speak of, with incidents large and small gradually providing an insight into the lives of three female housemates. It’s all set in Rosanna Vize’s grubby bathroom, which has enough little touches, like a scalable skeleton and strip lighting, to allow director Chelsea Walker to shift between the naturalistic dialogue and something a bit more theatrical. And while the conversations that provide the bulk of the play are honest, funny affairs – in part thanks to the wonderful, sisterly chemistry between Katherine Pearce and Sophie Melville – it is in those latter moments the piece really soars.
The shining example comes courtesy of Melville, in a scene that could have slotted easily into her bravura performance in Iphigenia in Splott. Under the glow of a poorly lit street Mary is accosted by a group of men, here disembodied voices played by the actress herself. Melville paws and grabs at her body to simulate the attack, before unleashing an anguished howl that sits like a dark cloud above the rest of the piece. It’s yet another performance that proves she is one of the best actresses currently on stage, and one that demands she gets a larger platform of recognition.
Low Level Panic is actually a bit reminiscent of the West End’s The Boys in the Band; both are relevant revivals that have nevertheless lost some of their punch in the intervening years. McIntyre’s play feel less like a period piece, however, with only a few era specific details giving away that it isn’t set in the present day. If it was written in 2017 one would imagine the sexual assault suffered by Mary wouldn’t be dismissed quite so easily by her friends; the conversations around pornography may be a bit more complex, and it would likely be far less ambiguous about sex-positivity. In fact, update Low Level Panic and one gets an episode of Girls.
It’s hard to ignore the similarities between McIntyre’s play and Lena Dunham’s show. And one can’t help but feel that the former comes off worse – a little bit tamer, slightly more naive. However, for a piece that is nearly 30 years old it is a sign of how well McIntyre captures the female experience, and the scary ways in which it hasn’t necessarily changed, that it still feels pretty damn fresh.
Low Level Panic is at the Orange Tree Theatre from 20th February until 25th March 2017, for further information or to book a visit here.