Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Jul 12 – Aug 12, 2016
Playwright: Clare McIntyre
Director: Justin Martin
Cast: Geraldine Hakewill, Amy Ingram, Kate Skinner
Image by Julia Robertson
Three young women share a home, and in their interactions within the intimate setting of a shared bathroom, we come to understand their desires and insecurities, along with the obstacles they encounter in daily life that shape their respective sense of self. Jo, Mary and Celia are different in many ways, but they are all subject to the male gaze. Their heterosexuality locks them further into complicated entanglements with the opposite sex, and allows Claire McIntyre’s Low Level Panic to unpack issues of politics and misogyny for a look into the modern woman’s relationship with the world, and more particularly, with sex, and with her own body. The statements made in the play are nothing new; it is after all, close to three decades old, having first appeared in the late 80’s, but the experiences it portrays still feel accurate and its revelations remain raw.
Director Justin Martin’s production is innovative and exuberant, with bold staging devices that assist in making the play’s concepts more lucid and powerful. The introduction of social media as an instrument of oppression brings the story up to date, offering a frame of reference that we relate to readily. A team of seven men are positioned around the stage dressed like stagehands, but are in fact part of the show, always watching, and always insisting that their masculine presence not be dismissed. They purport to be invisible but are actually a menacing force that fuels the subtext of the women’s conversations. Martin’s theatrical embellishments are a pleasure; sensitive, intelligent and often witty, but being much more pronounced in the first half, later sequences feel suddenly stark, almost too plain to meet our heightened expectations.
Performances are passionately vivid. The marvellous Amy Ingram leaves a remarkable impression with her impeccable timing and disarming authenticity as Jo, a character with endearing vivacity who nonetheless suffers from the unfortunate, but all too common, obsession with her self-determined physical inadequacies. The actor brings a valuable dignity to a discussion that tends to present her role as a victim of circumstance, and her brilliant sense of humour is the spoonful of sugar that makes the caustic medicine go down. Geraldine Hakewill and Kate Skinner provide excellent support with contrasting portrayals of femininity that gives the text’s argument a complexity, by challenging our preconceptions of gender representation.
In Low Level Panic, we are witness not only to the fact of sexual objectification, but also the reinforcement of that prejudice against women, by the three housemates onto themselves. The Stockholm syndrome as applied to the reprehensible male gaze is a truth rarely spoken. Segregation and subjugation based on gender is one of the most entrenched foundations of patriarchy, even the enslaved is unable to recognise her own debasement. Bringing us to this realisation is where the play becomes radical, but how it leaves off is of great importance. In our individual and collective feminisms, the problem of the male gaze is addressed in divergent ways. None reigns supreme, but it is our very action of living feminist lives that is meaningful.