Set in the 1980s, ‘Low Level Panic’ centres around three women in their early twenties, Jo, Mary, and Celia. It unpacks the insecurities and anxieties of its characters in the vulnerable setting of their shared bathroom.
City Theatre was the perfect place to stage this beautiful exposition of female identity, friendship, and sexuality. The audience sat so close to the stage that someone could even be heard remarking, ‘you can practically feel their breath from here’. Too close for comfort, the audience were immediately drawn into the strange voyeurism of Clare McLyntre’s play, enhanced by the directors’ (Honour Douglas and Zara Ewen) choice to have the actors on stage as the theatre filled. These collapsed boundaries between audience and actor, observer and observed, lent a greater depth to the ideas of performativity and self-consciousness that were integral to the play’s content. It almost felt as though the audience were invited to play the part of the scrutinising male gaze that the characters grappled with, at times catered to, and at others resisted, throughout the play.
Lara Mulgrew did an especially brilliant job at bringing her character to life. Her sensitive portrayal of Jo allowed for moments of great comedic relief alongside moments of vulnerability. Her acting not only did her own character justice but brilliantly brought out aspects of Lucy Faber and Georgie Durie’s characters too.
Durie’s portrayal of the character of Celia was outstanding, in its own right however. As an awkward character who sits slightly apart from Jo and Mary’s friendship, her insensitive comments to Mary and Jo could easily turn an audience against her. Durie, however, dealt with her character sensitively enough to make her somewhat jarring character strangely endearing. I couldn’t help but feel a little on her side as she accused Jo of ‘monopolising’ the bathroom in what turned out to be a misunderstanding surrounding who had dyed their sheets bright green in the bathroom sink. Her comedic timing and awkwardness drew out the naivety and softness in her character fantastically.
Faber too deserves high praise for her portrayal of the anxious, perhaps even a little neurotic, Mary. Moments of humour and lightness were once again balanced perfectly alongside the more challenging and emotionally demanding parts of the role. The ripple effects of her character’s recent sexual assault were felt out in a wonderfully sensitive and sobering way in Faber’s performance.
The set design is also deserving of great credit as it brilliantly manifested the character’s anxieties in its overflowing of beauty products and mirrors that cluttered the stage. The lighting too was used to brilliant effect. It is especially impressive considering Amren Stephenson, the lighting director, stepped in just two days before the first performance. The use of blackout was particularly effective as glimpses of Faber’s character drinking or being helped into a dress by Jo and Celia were gleamed by the audience. Even in darkness, the privacy of the young women was limited, once again contributing to the performance’s overall vulnerability.
The play ended quite abruptly and inconclusively, although the directors point out that the ‘beauty of friendship ripples beyond the blackout’. Despite the fact that this ending did feel like a strange way to end such an energetic and vibrant performance, it did not at all detract from the incredible achievement of the cast and crew. The audience was invited to share, not only the ‘low level panic’ of the play’s sombre content, but also the energy, comedy, and relief of its depiction of female friendship.