Skip to content

Low Level Panic

by on 8 May 2023

Sharing Caring

Low Level Panic

by Clare McIntyre

The Questors at the Studio, Questors Theatre, Ealing until 13th May

Review by Brent Muirhouse

The play Low Level Panic, written by Clare McIntyre in the 1980s, is hugely thought-provoking, slaloming rapidly through a trail of dark comedy and serious dramatic themes to explore the pervasive issue of objectification, and the obstacles, invasiveness and fear it creates for a woman in modern society.  Despite being written in the 1980s, Low Level Panic remains all too relevant today.

Taking place in a communal bathroom, the play is a character-driven piece that delves into the inner lives of the three female flatmates, highlighting their fears, anxieties, and frustrations.  Lily Baker, Hollie Hurrell, and Mandy MacConnol give standout performances as Mary, Jo, and Celia respectively, each conveying a depth of emotion that resonates with the audience, whilst detailed interaction with props, use of space, and timing also create room for comic elements.  Each of the cast were also near flawless with their huge amount of dialogue (although the play is 75 minutes, almost all of it is rapid-fire, Manhattan-quick chatter) and were more than able to play off each other to create an engaging dynamic, which felt every bit as true as a modern millennial flat share.  This sense of normality, relatability and almost calm in their living situation acts as a juxtaposition to the realities of their experiences of the world outside it, traversing struggles of body image, sexual assault and misogyny.  Low Level Panic is able to capture the small, ‘low level’ moments in terms of their duration but unwind them into showing their much greater and lasting effects through the three women’s thoughts and words, which more than succeeds in creating a powerful and enduring message for the audience.

The set design by Cecily Johnson is minimal, but effective, using everyday props such as a towel rack, bubble bath, and magazines to create a communal bathroom setting that seems so mundane and normal that it transcends from fiction to a home in which the audience were all temporarily resident.  This is astutely accompanied by Emma Hunt’s lighting design, which effectively switches to comparable darkness and colour hues to designate scenes outside the bathroom. 

The play’s themes are still relevant in an age of social media, dating apps, and instant gratification, which have only served to amplify the objectification and harassment of women.  This reviewer was left wondering whether the play’s narrative may have been enhanced by an update to the present day, given this increased number of avenues through which young women of 2023 navigate, though perhaps leaving the script relatively unchanged – bar a welcome euphoric blast of Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off in one party scene – only doubles-down on the message that not enough has been advanced for female equality in the three or four decades since McIntyre first wrote it.  On reading director Pamela Redrup’s programme notes, the challenges faced by young women, much like Mary, Jo, and Celia, were further highlighted, with a series of statistics provided underscoring the importance of the play’s themes and the ongoing need for greater awareness, advocacy and – ultimately – action in this area.

Though at times an unsettling, raw and personal watch, the Questors Theatre’s production of Low Level Panic is a driven, strong character piece, exploring the challenges faced by women in the world today as much as when the play was written.  The talent of the trio in the cast was in creating a believable world for the characters to inhabit, so that consequently the reality of the messages shared was all the starker and harder hitting, emphasising issues that should be high level policy concerns rather than the low-level considerations the play’s title suggests.  The impact of Low Level Panic stayed with me as I left the theatre into the streetlights of suburbia, knowing that much more action needs to be taken.

Brent Muirhouse, May 2023

Photography by Carla Evans

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: