The Panopticon review at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘a striking performance’
There’s great ambition in Jenni Fagan’s adaptation of her acclaimed 2012 novel, about a young woman growing up in the care system, for the National Theatre of Scotland.
A technically complex staging performed by a nine-person ensemble, The Panopticon reflects Fagan’s own experience of growing up in care. Like the central character Anais (Anna Russell-Martin), the author experienced more than 30 care home moves.
Anais ends up in the Panopticon, an old Victorian institution with sinister, decommissioned shackling devices behind its locked doors.
Debbie Hannan’s production features strong performances throughout. Gail Watson, as Anais’ coarse dominatrix adoptive auntie, and Paul Tinto, as an emotionally over-invested care worker, are particularly good. But it’s Russell-Martin, on stage for the whole production, who holds this complex character piece together.
She brings a fierce non-conformity and a vibrant intellectual curiosity to Anais as the 15-year-old character comes of age. Anais endures punishing emotional and physical suffering, including the suicide of friends and a grim episode of sexual violence. She develops the paranoid fantasy/coping mechanism that she’s being watched all the time by a mysterious force known as ‘the experiment’ (represented by Lewis den Hertog’s sinister video projections).
Designer Max Johns’ versatile set – an arc of nine revolving, two-tier cells – reinforces this feeling of being viewed at all times: a by-product of the care system’s institutional surveillance, and a wider metaphor for the forms of interaction we all submit to now.
If at times the piece feels overstuffed, Russell-Martin’s performance ensures it remains resonant.
Want to continue reading? Support The Stage with a subscription
We believe in fair pay for everyone who works in the arts, and that includes all our journalists and the whole team who create The Stage each week.
As a family-run, independently-owned publication, we rely on our readers' subscriptions to pay journalists to produce the informed and in-depth articles you want to read.
The Stage will always strive to report on great work across the country, champion new talent and publish impartial investigative journalism. Our independence allows us to deliver unbiased reporting that supports the performing arts industry, but we can only do this with your help.