Review: Low Level Panic (Thread Entertainment)

threadentertainmentVenue: 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

Theatre review
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.

5 Questions with Geraldine Hakewill and Amy Ingram

Geraldine Hakewill

Geraldine Hakewill

Amy Ingram: This play explores the friendships and relationships of women and how they view each other and themselves. Do you recognise yourself in any of the women or the relationships they share?
Geraldine Hakewill: I recognise myself in all three women, and I’ve definitely experienced the sorts of relationships they share: the jealousy, the awkwardness, the passive-aggressive conversations, the solidarity, the depth of love and affection, the fragility, the dangerous unpredictability and the profound trust. I think most women will recognise it all too. That is the brilliance of this play and why it still works. I really get Mary’s over-analysis and anger at the world. I completely identify with Jo’s self-loathing coupled with positivity. And Celia is basically me, on crack. Not really. (But really).

Feminism seems to be making its way back into the forefront of social media, how do you think this play looks at feminism in today’s current political climate?
I think what is fascinating about us doing this play right now is that so little has changed since Claire McIntyre wrote it back in 1989. That’s very frightening. Beauty is still the strongest currency in this world, and women are still afraid when we walk down the street at night because we might get attacked, simply for being female. This isn’t OK. What has changed is that it feels like social media has been taken up as a tool to unite feminists around the world, be they male or female, and allow people to have a voice in order to educate and to argue and to discuss. I think that’s brilliant. As much as the anonymity of Twitter and Facebook allows for trolling and abuse, it also allows people who aren’t public figures and who never thought they could participate in a public discussion, to share their stories and create awareness. This production has been updated by Justin (Martin, our director) so that we are referencing this shift. We aren’t changing Claire’s words, but we are bring her text into this era of modern technology and we’re trying to explore how media and technology has changed feminism and the discussion around it- for better and for worse. It feels more immediate and relevant than almost any other play I’ve ever done.

Your character is very particular about her routine and products. If you could take one of those products and make it do anything in the world what would it do?
Well, what if my ocean fresh exfoliating shower gel could somehow make me invisible? I think that’d be pretty amazing. I’m such a secret snoop, and I’ve always loved the idea of being a spy. This would be really helpful. Even if it was just 45 minutes worth of invisibility. Plenty of time for spy-stuffs. And well worth the $5.99.

If you met Celia out at a bar what do you think she would be doing? What would you two get up to in the course of the night?
I think she’d be waiting for a Tinder date. She’d be looking pretty hot. She’d be nervous-sweating but she would have worn extra strong antiperspirant and so she’d still smell fresh. She’d be sitting alone at the bar. I’d be with a group of friends at a booth after a day of rehearsals. I use hippy deodorant so I would not be as fresh as her. Her date is two hours late but she’s stubborn. She waits. She’d look forlornly over to our group as we laughed too loudly at some private ‘actor’ joke that no one else will ever find funny. I’d go to buy a round of drinks and she’d comment on my jeans. They fit well. Thanks, I’d say. It’s really hard to find the perfect jean. She’d agree. By the end of the night we are singing Celine Dion karaoke together at 4am and promising to be best friends for life. We never see each other again. But, I’ll always be impressed that she knew all the words to “It’s All Coming Back To Me.”

If your life was a midday movie what would the title be?
“It’s All Coming Back to Me.” It’d just be a series of musical flashbacks and dream ballet sequences. You can be in it Amy, if you like. We can do a pas de deux.

Amy Ingram

Amy Ingram

What was so special about this role that made you want to come down from Brisbane to do it?
First off it was more about working with Kate as I had not seen her in ages and always thought it would be great to work with her. She seemed so excited about the project I was immediately intrigued. Then I read the script and laughed out load at so many points I knew that was a good sign. I am extremely interested in roles where women are the central focus and their character journey is more than a supporting role for some 40 year old dudes mid life crisis. The fact that this show also looks how we view ourselves in the world meant I was basically hooked! On a side not it is always exciting to work with new people, in new places and venues – I think it makes you a better artist.

The play was written and is set in the 80s in England. Do you think we’re managing to do a good job of setting it in 2016 in Australia? And how?
Unfortunately most of the conversations we have now about equality and how women are objectified to the point of violence are exactly the same. All that has changed is the context and medium or lens used. The rise of social media and the fact that more and more women are moving into higher positions of power (HURRAHHHH!) means that we are some cases seeing the extent to sexism in a much clearer light. So basically – Yes – I think we are doing a good job of it because the world is often doing a shit job of shutting sexism down. When I first read the script I was surprised at how old it was and I think you can’t help but put a contemporary context on it because we are living here and now and our lives and experiences fuel our choices on stage

What do you think the title, Low Level Panic refers to?
Welcome to the everyday world people. We are in a constant fret about our appearance , what people think about us, what we think of ourselves. This is not exclusive to women. But you add onto that the fear some women face everyday in their own homes. The simple choice of trying not to walk home when it is dark. Asking yourself if the dress you are wearing is going to invite negative attention, crossing the road when you run because because you don’t want to get heckled . And I know some people reading this will say I’m blowing it out of proportion and #notallmen. And that’s true. It’s absolutely true . But then why does what I mention still happen more frequently than you’d think and why do we still feel this way?

What’s your favourite thing about being Amy Ingram?
Now why would I give away that info for free? Come to the show and have a drink with me afterwards and find out for yourself…

You really don’t like wearing pants, but if you had to wear pants every day of your life, describe your ideal pair. They can be magical.
Pants that make me fly. Or time travel. Pants that can take me to some tropical island whenever I wish. Now those are pants I can get around. Also pants that whenever I reach into the pockets there are wads of money inside. I’d bloody never take them off.

Geraldine Hakewill and Amy Ingram can both be seen in Low Level Panic by Clare McIntyre.
Dates: 12 July – 12 August, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

5 Questions with Sheridan Harbridge and Ryan Johnson

Sheridan Harbridge

Sheridan Harbridge

Ryan Johnson: Is 80 Minutes No Interval exactly what it claims to be?
Sheridan Harbridge: It is exactly that. 80 minutes of punchy fun dark love with no breaks for a wee. Compact theatre for the average functioning bladder.

Your character has a real issue with theatre. Do you empathise?
My character Clare has a real problem with artsy fartsy theatre. She sits in the audience and feels ignored by the plays she sees. I don’t have that problem, I go dreamy for a beautiful classic where the director gets out of the way and honours the playwright’s intention, but I do also like risk and experimentation in my theatre. Unlike Clare, I am empathetic with the nature of risk and that more often than not, it doesn’t work, and you’re left with 35 actors running around on stage for 7 hours in diamante G-strings, holding dildos stuck on the end of some glittered sceptres singing Kylie Minogue hits in Latin. But when the risk pays off, the “Locomotion” in Latin is a real winner.

Do you think theatre needs to be more accessible?
I love the theatre scene in Australia. For the small arts community we have, we have a range of companies ticking the boxes for whatever may be your flavour. The problem is always the struggle for money, and how quickly these companies and artists burn out trying to consistently produce quality accessible and experimental theatre. Then they have to take less risks to stay safe and afloat and we all begin to complain again.

What makes our play different?
It’s a beautiful dark dark comedy with so much heart, and so so much absurdity. And plenty of fake blood, S&M whippings and nudity from an actor so handsome even Nanna will like it.

Most ridiculous thing I have ever seen in the theatre?
I saw a girl spill a tin of pencils on the floor and stand on them for half an hour trying to stay upright while monologuing. She fell so many times, the pencils were splitting in pieces and cutting the hell out of her legs. Exceptional.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson

Sheridan Harbridge: Is 80 Minutes No Interval exactly what it claims to be?
Ryan Johnson: Yes, depending on how many laughs we get and also how fast we act. It is absolutely endeavouring to be 80 minutes and it definitely has no interval.

Your character Louis is desperate to make a great work of art, to leave a legacy behind. What will people say about the legacy of Ryan Johnson?
I don’t think I’ll be remembered as a great actor or father or husband. It won’t be as ‘that scallywag who always seemed to have time for a chat with everyone.’ No – I’ll be remembered as the guy from the Cadbury Favourites commercial.

What do you think about 8-hour plays with 2 intervals and a dinner break?
I would rather eat hair. No one needs that in their life. Maybe the tech operators on the show who get paid by the hour but for anyone else, I’d say “don’t buy a ticket, you’re just enabling them”. If you want to be confused for 8 hours while watching A-list Australian actors talk funny in silly costumes, just watch one of the Hobbit movies.

What’s your favourite moment in the show?
The bits where you and Robin do anything. I think you are both comically brilliant and I feel very fortunate I get to share a space with you both!

What’s the most ridiculous thing you have ever seen in the theatre?
90’s Australian Basketball megastar Andrew Gaze in Jack And The Beanstalk at the Gold Coast Art Centre. The production was brilliant but he just didn’t capture the giant’s vulnerability. I wanted to know what was behind his ‘hunger’ for Jack but I couldn’t help but feel like Andrew was just ‘playing evil’.

Sheridan Harbridge and Ryan Johnson can be seen in 80 Minutes No Interval by Travis Cotton.
Dates: 8 March – 9 April, 2016
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre

Review: 80 Minutes No Interval (Thread Entertainment)

redlineVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Mar 8 – Apr 9, 2016
Playwright: Travis Cotton
Director: Travis Cotton
Cast: Jacob Allan, Robin Goldsworthy, Sheridan Harbridge, Ryan Johnson, Julia Rorke
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
Travis Cotton’s play is as much an analysis on the creative process as it is about entertainment. 80 Minutes No Interval interrogates its own writer’s abilities, ambitions and approach to art and life, but its self-indulgence is very consciously altered to accommodate Cotton’s awareness of a paying crowd’s expectations of enjoyment and fulfilment. A brilliant wit provides coherence between the simultaneous, and usually divergent, needs of being innovative and crowd-pleasing, with an unabashed lust for laughter that determines its every stage moment.

When the show is not delivering unadulterated and outrageous hilarity, it is at least piercingly amusing. Constantly alternating between juvenile and sophisticated tones of humour, it tickles our funny bone relentlessly, and aggressively, insisting on our immersion into its worlds of humour. Robin Goldsworthy and Sheridan Harbridge play a range of supporting characters, and are linchpins to the effectiveness of this fun factory. Both gloriously adventurous and bold, the actors are faultless in their precise comedy, no matter how broad or how subtle they choose to attack the material. Their work here is unmissable. Leading man Ryan Johnson has the hard task of playing straight man in the midst of a lot of hysteria, and although not quite as funny, he certainly holds his own with graceful charm and an ever-present all-knowing glint in his eyes. The role of Louis is perhaps too unsentimental a creation for the play to establish poignancy, but Johnson is nonetheless able to introduce a valuable humanity that elevates it from mere farce.

The production is designed with ingenuity and admirable exactitude. Sound and music by Hamish Michael and Hue Blanes are crucial to how the audience’s emotions respond at every plot juncture, and Ross Graham’s dynamic lights create unexpected variety and dimension to what is essentially a small and blank black space. Beautifully executed by stage manager Liam Murray, the show’s technical accuracy contributes significantly to the way we are kept persuaded and engrossed.

80 Minutes No Interval is a study of negotiations between art and entertainment in theatre. The joy it provides is undeniable, and it makes statements about art that are acute and intelligent. Using autobiography as a point of departure, but disallowing the ego from getting in the way of a good time, Travis Cotton finds himself in a space that is both critical of the art world, and also deeply self-deprecating. It is hard to imagine better ways of spending eighty minutes than with this gleeful concoction of silly and smart, whether just for laughs or food for thought.