‘What’s going on inside your head?’
This question is unnecessary really with Low Level Panic being a ninety minute verbal vomit in the shared bathroom of three twenty-something girlfriends. Low Level Panic is an English stage version of Sex in the City without the charisma of the hit television series. Written by Clare McIntyre in 1989 it is currently being revived at The Bread and Roses Theatre in Clapham.
Billed as a dark comedy, there is little laughter to be found in this script that hasn’t been buried under an avalanche of words. Scene after scene plods along with little variation other than one scene that appears to have migrated from a different script. The inadequacies of the play itself are not improved by the valiant efforts of this cast and can’t be compensated for by the shock value of the pornography or salacious content.
The director, Pamela Schermann has been unable to find the rhythm in the script and a lack of flow. There is little narrative content in the script and this does not help. In a play entitled Low Level Panic one would expect a modicum of tension and panic to be found. There is none in this production.
The role of Mary, played by Tessa Hart, is the character that should hold a level of panic. She was sexually attacked on her way home one evening and the mental scars show in her attitude towards sex, men and herself. Mary relates the events of that evening in the only scene that is set somewhere other than the bathroom. It is a strong monologue about fear and vulnerability but Hart does not show these feelings and so the audience remains largely unmoved. The remote staging of this scene hampers its playing, set as it is in a back corner of the room.
Rebecca Pryle plays the part of Jo, the bathroom inhabitant with body image issues. Pryle charms with her fantasy monologue about achieving perfection with magically longer and slimmer legs but, in the more reflective moments, doesn’t quite achieve the whimsy of the girl dreaming of love.
As the last of the trio of friends, the OCD affected Celia, Sassy Clyde delivers a finely crafted character who is slightly on the outside the circle of friendship of the others. Clyde’s performance is a spirited contrast to the others and it’s not surprising that Celia is the friend who gets the man. The smile on her face when she enters the bathroom the morning after says it all.
This is one of the many London theatres that inhabits the upstairs room of a pub. It’s not a purpose built theatre but a function room. Spaces such as this one serve the wonderful world of Fringe theatre to incubate fresh talent. Sometimes, as is the case here, some lateral thinking provides a successful and innovative use of such a space.
Set designer Jo Jones has placed the bathroom on a slightly raised dais against the long edge of the room. Once the audience is settled, the door into the theatre acts as the door into the bathroom and the naked wall itself is perfect. When the audience enters, Jo is already ensconced in a bath…with water. The set works beautifully with the cast.
Whilst the issues of objectification of women raised in this play are current and important, this script demands a level of interpretation to lift it out of repetitious melodrama that is missing from this production.