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Low Level Panic review at Orange Tree Theatre, London – ‘beautifully realised’

Sophie Melville in Low Level Panic at the Orange Tree Theatre, London. Photo: Helen Murray
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So much remains unchanged. While that might be the first reaction to Clare McIntyre’s 1988 play, Low Level Panic, here getting its first major revival, her account of three young women in their shared bathroom is also something of a period piece.

Their main preoccupation is men: how to attract them, how not to be intimidated or objectified by them. This still rings true, even though pornography is no longer confined to binnable mags and social media enables a level of sexual bullying unimagined 30 years ago.

More importantly, I doubt if McIntyre, with her sharp ear and fierce honesty would now write a play which gave her characters no hint of their power in the world apart from men. What work do they do? What are their aspirations beyond their appearance and their dreams of social and sexual success?

The kernel of the piece, though, is a beautifully realised snapshot of the relationship between the women, their rivalry, humour and mutual support, especially Jo (Katherine Pearce), anxious about her weight, and Mary (Sophie Melville) whose confidence has been rocked by a sexual assault. Celia (Samantha Pearl), moisturised and perfumed to perfection, gets her man; McIntyre, tellingly, does not give her a revealing monologue.

All three are spot on under Chelsea Walker’s spirited direction, in Rosanna Vize’s bathroom set – avocado, naturally. Pearce, bathing naked without fuss, is extremely funny in company, sad when alone describing her failure to find solace in a masturbation fantasy about lorry drivers. Melville (so brilliant in Iphigenia in Splott) graphically re-enacts the assault which affects her every mood and decision.

McIntyre went on to write subtly about middle class liberal angst, but died aged only 57. Hers was a voice lost far too soon.

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Welcome revival of sharply observed, and often very funny, 1980s play