Low Level Panic
by Claire McIntyre
The Order Of The Bath
Ah, 1988 ... when Kraft was cheese and Heinz was beanz and never the twain would meet. A merger was arranged between breakaway Social Democrat and the Liberal Party. Margaret Thatcher was
And Clare McIntyre's curious collage of a play Low Level Panic was first performed at The Royal Court.
The play ostensibly covers a night and a day in the life of three young women. A comedy drama, part soap gone radical, probably influenced by Nancy Friday's influential tome My Secret Garden on women's sexual fantasies, and a nexus for a cocktail of 1980s' pressures, personal, political and commercial contradictions.
In a well-paced and nuanced revival, the entire play is set in the bathroom of an all-female house-share. Rosanna Vize's clever four-cornered design, complete with avocado bath, toilet, free-standing door and vertical neon lit rails rising like outsize towel racks to the ceiling, gives director Chelsea Walker and movement director Ita O'Brien enormous flexibility.
The play's opening coup de théâtre still makes a - ahem - splash. Plumpish and shaggy-permed Jo (Katherine Pearce) and her more intense slim blonde housemate Mary (Sophie Melville) are relaxing in the bathroom. Mary, cigarette in hand, is perched on the toilet cistern at an open window. And Jo is starkers, naturally, as she's soaking in the bath using all the hot water.
Jo is also baring all as regards her fantasies laced with Hollywood-, pop video- and advertising-style luxury where the body, upmarket cars and sexual partners she yearns for are perfect specimens of the human race. All of which falls away when she mounts the scales.
While demure and groomed Celia (Samantha Pearl) could either be a beautician or have just stepped out of a beauty parlour complete with an array of beauty products. The main strand of the plot follows Mary, the only one whose career we glimpse freeing herself from the shackles of a past sexual assault.
In spite of this, there are a fair amount of laughs - some things never change for women and in house-share bathrooms ;). There's some terrific dialogue between the women and the embarassment of parties rings true. But the monologues, despite the best efforts of sound designer Richard Hamarton and lighting designer Elliot Griggs to create a separate psychic space, do feel clunky.
It's a slick production and it struck us maybe back in 1988, it was a little more raw and makeshift. Still, the issues raised of body image and the use and abuse of women sexually in the global marketplace are still with us.
So there's plenty to reflect on and some very ingenious staging by Walker. Certainly at 80 minutes, it's a play well worth seeing without outstaying its welcome and its an upper range amber light from TLT and her own little luxury limousine.