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Low Level Panic
"Sod the waterbed. I'd go for a huge bath." — Jo
Low Level Panic
Sophie Melville as Mary (Photo: Helen Murray)
Clare McIntyre's Low Level Panic endures in so far as the situation the playwright described in 1988, seems not to have improved the lot of women in three decades. Her play is set in a flat share of the bathroom of three girls designed by Rosanna Vize. They talk about sex and body image, how to meet men and personal safety.

Jo (Katherine Pearce) is in the bath talking to Mary and alternates between regretting her sexual lot and expressing her deepest sexual fantasy. She does so with great humour and insight which endears her to us. Sitting on the windowsill is her friend Mary (Sophie Melville) who understandably is not getting on with the neighbours, who have vandalised their deck chair by setting it on fire. Mary is looking at Razzle, a pornographic magazine she has found dumped in their dustbin and the ways in which women are seen in it. The playwright sets up a character contrast between Jo and Mary: Mary, uptight and nervous, Jo laid back but unhappy about her body image and being overweight.

After Jo has got out of the bath, Mary tells us why she has cause to feel nervous having been the victim of a sexual assault on her way home. This disturbing scene is reenacted with the voices of her attackers but played by the other two female actors. She uses an old fashion rubber shower mixer to represent the handlebars of the bike as the unseen men taunt her and terrify all of us in the audience. This awful experience has destroyed Mary's confidence and she is nervous about going out.

A survey carried out recently showed women asking for better street lighting to make them feel less vulnerable when alone.

It takes a lot of persuasion for Jo to get Mary to venture out to a party and to wear the new frock with its short skirt and flimsy fabric bought specially for the occasion. Meanwhile, the third flatmate, Celia (Samantha Pearl), her character more sketchily drawn than the others, tries to get into the bathroom for a bath when there is still enough hot water. She carefully arranges her bottles of shampoo and body lotion on the edge of the bath, finished off by a night light for a truly indulgent soak only to discover that there is no hot water left.

Low Level Panic allows the two main actors to convince us about their hopes and fears. Jo's fantasies of having legs that are six inches longer that will bring her attention and wealthy men falling at her feet are of course fantasies but they underline the criteria used to judge women and success. We haven't moved on from Cinderella and Prince Charming except that we now know that we all have feet too big for a glass slipper and instead are battling a glass ceiling. The performances from Katherine Pearce as Jo and Sophie Melville as Mary are moving and thought provoking.

These recent productions at the "in the round" Orange Tree are consistently getting praise for interesting, reliable, relevant drama chosen by someone with a good eye and directed with style.

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Low Level Panic
Written by Clare McIntyre
Directed by Chelsea Walker
Starring: Katherine Pearce, Sophie Melville, Samantha Pearl
Design: Rosanna Vize
Lighting Design: Elliot Griggs
Sound Design and Composer: Richard Hammarton
Movement Director: Ita O'Brian
Running time: One hour 20 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 020 8940 3633
Booking to 25th March 2017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 20th February 2016 performance at The Orange Tree Theatre, 1 Clarence Street, Richmond, Surrey TW9 2SA (Rail/Tube: Richmond)
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