Low Level Panic, high level theatre

AFTER A hugely successful run at last autumn’s Galway Theatre Festival, Anam Theatre Company’s production of Low Level Panic makes a welcome return to Nuns Island Theatre next week prior to a national tour.

Written by English playwright Clare McIntyre and first performed in 1988 at the Royal Court, Low Level Panic portrays three young women’s very different approaches to survival within a world defined by pornographic media. Jo ponders the sexual power she could wield if she were only a little taller; Mary has recently endured a sexual assault; and then there is hygiene freak Celia.

Foul-mouthed and funny, the three housemates debate body image, sexuality, porn, and fantasies, while also bickering over access to the bathroom in which much of the play’s action is set.

Anam’s staging is directed by Justin Martin whose credits include a string of prestigious shows on the West End, Broadway, and in his native Australia. It was his friendship with Anam’s artistic director Sarah O’Toole which saw him take the reins for Low Level Panic.

“Sarah and I went to university together in London,” he tells me. “We went to Bali for a period studying theatre of the east and we got very sunburned and became friends over that sunburn! We’ve been trying to work together for years but we were both always busy doing other things until last year, when she invited me over, and I had the time and it’s worked out perfectly.”

Martin has updated McIntyre’s play to include references to the internet and Twitter.

“Clare never specified when the play is set even though she was writing in response to what was happening in the late-eighties,” he notes. “The main difference now is that the issues women face haven’t changed but modes of communication have.

“We didn’t need to change anything in the script itself, we just updated the way in which women within the play communicate with each other and with the outside world. The play is set in a bathroom so it calls on the audience’s sense of its own gaze as we’re watching something which is normally private. In most places the bathroom is like a sanctuary where you can relax and be yourself but in this play it’s put onstage.

“The internet is also something within which we do that, we allow people into our private spaces so we found a very clear parallel between that idea and the technology of today.”

Martin describes the three women in the play: “They all live together in a shared house. Jo and Mary have been friends for a long time. Mary was attacked by a couple of men one night in the street and that has changed the whole dynamic of their friendship. The third woman, Celia, doesn’t quite fit in with the other two. She is like a stereotype the other two would like to be like but are not, so there is a tension within that friendship, as there can be in any shared house where you have people who are very different living together.”

One of the most gifted playwrights of her generation, Clare McIntyre died five years ago of multiple sclerosis aged 57. Martin sums up the qualities of her writing.

“The main thing about her is that she’s got an amazing sense of comedy which comes out of a real observation of what women are going through in the world,” he says. “There is an honesty to her writing; the comedy is recognisable, you see things you do yourself, whether it’s women or men, communicating about things that are important that are not normally talked about.

“We transposed the play into an Irish context because we feel it portrays a universal situation and a lot of stuff from here ties right into the themes of the play such as ‘Slane Girl’ and bullying websites. I think she has written a play that fits the context of women throughout the Western world.

“When we did it last year it felt like an important play. It was talking about a shift in what was happening in the world and for women of today. Audiences really enjoyed it but also felt it was really important, it was saying things that no-one else was saying. That’s what prompted us to take it out on tour.”

This revival also sees some additions to the cast, as Martin reveals.

“We’ve added three children to the show who represent the three girls as they were in 1989,” he says. “We wanted a way to reference back to that time and to see what has changed. We integrate them into some of the lines that are already there, but there is also a lot of movement in the play and we’ve incorporated them into that, they’re part of the play’s canvas.”

Anam’s production of Low Level Panic features Sarah O’Toole (Mary ), Eimear Kilmartin (Jo ), and Aoife Martyn (Celia ) along with Eoin Barton, Jerry Fitzgerald, and child actors Alex Nilsson, Alannah Kelly, and Abigail Somers.

The play runs at Nuns Island Theatre from Wednesday April 30 to Saturday May 3 at 8pm. Tickets are €12/10 and available on the door.


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