Melbourne Fringe 2016

Low Level Panic, Melbourne Fringe 2016

0 Comments 30 September 2016

Words by Eleanor Boydell

Full disclosure: I’m a dead-set feminist. Give me women or give me nothing. Radical, liberal, personal, political – don’t care, I’ll take it all, wave upon wave.

I’m never sure if it’s in spite of my feminism or because of it that art and media which claims to represent the experience of womanhood tends to grate. Sex and the City is laughable, Girls is insulting, and in a very similar vein Low Level Panic, the debut performance of Someone Else Theatre, was hard for me to endure.

Set entirely in a domestic bathroom, three housemates move in and out of the space, sharing with each other and the audience their insecurities, fantasies and feelings. The play seemingly aims for realism and relatability, depicting candid conversations and moments of personal introspection.

Sounds great, but it didn’t stir me. It was just okay. The story was rushed, and didn’t allow us time to connect with the characters. Despite some great one-liners and moments of banter, much of the text made the women seem vapid and uncaring. The presentation felt overdone as the actors unnecessarily faked stilted British accents, reducing the authenticity of their interactions. A highlight was the staging of the performance, with seating on two sides of a spacious pink bathroom stripped down to its studs, in which one character spends the first 15 minutes of the play sloshing naked in the bath (yes, with water and all).

Written by Clare McIntyre in the 1980s, perhaps the script was bold for its time but 30 years later it falls flat, neither strong nor subtle. Hearing women dismissively read aloud from a tacky porno mag is no longer edgy; honest talk about women’s bodies is easy to find if you know where to look; we’ve learned better language to express frustrations with sexism. Perhaps for an audience member less resolved than myself, less familiar with art and writing by and about women, the play would have been refreshing and new. The script has good bones; more courageous and creative direction might have allowed these to shine and make a contemporary statement.

There was one element of the play which, sadly, rang timeless and true: the experience of a woman harassed on the street by two men, her thought process as she tries to understand the incident, and her anxiety, discomfort and distress in its wake. This is what the play aims to address – the way societal pressure and gaze affects women’s relationships with our bodies and our selves, and the low level panic that ensues. It’s an important topic that should be tackled by art. Do it well and many (not all, but many) women will relate. That’s the kicker though – you’ve got to do it well.

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