Photo by Julia Robertson
Photo by Julia Robertson
Audiences for Low Level Panic shouldn’t feel surprised if they sense their inner voyeur turned on during the course of the evening.
Justin Martin, the show’s director, would be disappointed if it wasn’t. Part of his job in bringing British writer Clare McIntyre’s probing and very funny three-woman play to the stage, he says, is to make sure that sexualising gaze – the male gaze – comes into play.
“You have three women who share a flat and the play is observing them in their private space – their bathroom,” says Martin, who is staging the show at the Old Fitzroy Theatre. “The play is about how women survive and live with that male gaze.”
Martin has already seen the effect McIntyre’s provoking 1988 play can elicit. He comes to the Old Fitzroy having directed a critically praised production in Ireland in 2014.
“Low Level Panic talked to what was going on over there at the time,” Martin says. “There were incidents of young girls and boys being captured on mobile phones having sex. The reaction was as you might expect: the girl was a slut; the boy was a legend, and the person who put it online was an innocent bystander. We wanted to look more deeply at that reaction.”
The play strikes Martin as no less pertinent to Australia in 2016. “It feels right to bring the play into the conversation about sexism, [online] trolling and what has been happening in the media.”
For actor Kate Skinner, who co-stars with Amy Ingram and Geraldine Hakewill, the play’s title describes what women experience most of the time.
“It’s an anxiety you can’t quite put your finger on, a sense that you are doing something wrong, or that something might happen to you, but you aren’t allowed to talk about that anxiety,” Skinner says.
“If I call it out, what will be the response? Will there be backlash? Will people say it isn’t really happening? When you work on a play like this, you can’t help see the way things are more clearly.”
Hakewill agrees. “As women, we live with that anxiety, we normalise it. It’s like we’re meant to feel this way and we can coast along like that. It’s not until you start questioning that at some point in your life, because you see a play or read a book that highlights it, or because you’ve been abused or made to feel uncomfortable in some way, that you realise how ingrained it really is.”
McIntyre, who died in 2009, wrote her breakthrough Samuel Beckett Award-winning play to examine the effects of pornography on women’s behaviour and self-image. It was created in a time before the internet became widespread, and before smart phones and social media.
In McIntyre’s original, one of the flatmates finds an unwanted Penthouse magazine stuffed into their rubbish bin. In Martin’s production, sexualised images of women are everywhere, all the time, and unwanted comments are just a tap of the smartphone away.
Having an audience observe the private rituals of everyday life in what will be a working, plumbed-in bathroom in this intimate theatre will be a challenge to the easy voyeurism and sense of male entitlement that has developed with the internet and social media.
“I’m directing the play to show how even the most banal moments between women – like the painting of toenails – can be sexualised or misconstrued,” Martin says. “Hopefully, by exercising that awareness, we can change the way people look at the world.”
The object is not to teach men a lesson, adds Ingram. “It’s about seeing your thoughts rather than just being your thoughts. Even if one person comes out of the play, male or female, and says, I’m going to shift the way I look at things, then we’ve done our job.”
SOURCE: theage.com.au / Photography by Peter Rae
Low Level Panic explores questions of female sexuality in a unique setting at the Old Fitz Theatre
An open discussion about pornography might seem a risky method through which to explore the way women view themselves — but according to Justin Martin, director of Low Level Panic, it’s one that is necessary.
As Red Line Productions newest play, Low Level Panic focuses in on the experiences of three women and their perception of themselves and each other, using the lens of pornography to create a dialogue about issues which affect us all.
“I think pornography, and they say in the play, is the tip of the iceberg. Pornography is a jumping off point rather than necessarily what the play is about,” Martin said.
Kate Skinner, who plays one of the women in question, said the often taboo topic was a catalyst for how the women “deal with something that has already happened. So in a way it gives them something to talk about so they can talk about much bigger things,” she said.
Set in a bathroom, the play offers a unique and voyeuristic insight into the insecurities the women have and the struggles they face when confronted with an idealised version of their gender.
“We took this idea that the women in the play are exploring the female gaze and the way they see themselves and the way in which they are refracting the way they see themselves based on a male view,” Martin said.
“At the same time you’re allowing that private space to be viewed publicly which suddenly allows me as a male director in the context of that to explore the male gaze where something very domestic is sexualised, or might be misunderstood,” he said.
The issues raised in the play highlighted the unrelenting saturation of sexualised images in media and advertising in the world, Skinner said.
“Through doing this play and through collating things in the world that have to do with it, I definitely think I look at myself and how I stack up or don’t stack up to the ideal women — I look at that very differently now … It hits me in the face in a way it wouldn’t normally,” Skinner said.
There is a lot of humour in the play as well — a tool which makes the play accessible to both male and female audiences, he said.
The aim of the play is to encourage a debate which people want to have — not one where men try to “defend themselves” but feel “empowered by the idea that there are amazing women in this world,” Martin said.
“All women are amazing but these three characters are amazing and interesting and we need to support them and we are a part of the world with them,” he said.
SOURCE: dailytelegraph.com.au / Photography by Chris Pavlich
LOW LEVEL PANIC
Old Fitzroy Theatre, July 14. Until August 12
British writer Clare McIntyre’s breakthrough play premiered at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 1988. It was, and remains, a provoking study of the ways in which women’s lives are affected by the omnipresent, objectifying and frequently prurient male gaze.
This production directed by Justin Martin refreshes McIntyre’s thesis by making it reverberate in the echo chamber of contemporary social media.
Largely confined to the bathroom shared by three housemates, Low Level Panic offers an acute slice-of-life observation of three young women and the multifarious ways in which male behaviour – the conscious and the unconscious – impacts on their self-esteem, their sexual and romantic lives, and sense of security and freedom.
At first sight (naked in the bath), Jo (Amy Ingram) seems impervious to anyone else’s opinion. But her exterior toughness masks deep loneliness and disgust at her own body.
Mary (Kate Skinner) seems more fragile, having been very much rattled by the discovery of a porn magazine in the rubbish bin. Later, we learn she is struggling with the aftershocks of a sexual assault.
Celia (Geraldine Hakewill), recently moved in, is younger by a couple of years and seems, by contrast, quite serene. Yet she is obsessed with her beauty regimen and consumed by her one-woman crusade against slovenliness.
McIntyre’s original play is a three-hander. Martin expands that vision with epic theatre strategies, songs, choreographed sequences (including one featuring a young girl who represents their child selves), and a seven-man chorus.
Dressed in black and interchangeable, the men serve as stagehands and dressers. They perform on stage, too, filling an already cramped bathroom to bursting with rowdy partygoers or dancing in a musical sequence devoted to Celia’s fantasies. Two participate in a chilling re-creation of the assault Mary suffered on her way home from work one night.
When not directly employed in a scene the men sit side of stage, observing these women in their intimate moments. They are a disconcerting presence, manifestations of our own voyeuristic impulses.
The chemistry whipped up between the three women is strong and convincing. Individually, each performance rings truthfully.
Ingram, a Queensland actor making her Sydney stage debut, is magnetic as the bolshie yet bereft Jo. Skinner digs deep as the haunted Mary. Hakewill is charming and funny as Celia, whose strategy seems to be to flatter the male gaze at all times. Her model looks are deployed to calculated effect.
The production’s audiovisual components need some strengthening (glitchy feeds from mobile phones projected on a tiny screen above the set don’t really cut it), but in all other respects this is a very coherent, well designed and thoughtfully made work.
We’ve seen a lot of good theatre in Sydney in recent weeks, but Low Level Panic strikes me as the one show we need to see right now.
SOURCE: smh.com.au / Photography by Julia Robertson
Low Level Panic – Lisa chats with Geraldine Hakewill (Theatre interview)
Low Level Panic at The Old Fitz Theatre is one of the most anticipated indie theatre events of 2016. Its presented by Thread Entertainment and Red Line Productions and directed by Justin Martin. Here’s the blurb from the Old Fitz website:
Here is a careful examination of the role of pornography in our society and the way it affects three young women in particular. Short scenes show how popular images of women influence the way they are seen by others and the way they see themselves.
With a play particularly important for the way women are depicted, I grabbed the opportunity to quiz Geraldine Hakewill on some of the tougher aspects of making theatre about complex female subjects. She was kind enough to provide fascinating answers that will whet your appetite for the production, and give us a taste of the challenges and joys she experienced preparing for this show. Enjoy!
Low Level Panic is on at the Old Fitz from 12 July to 12 August.
LT: Tell us about your character in Low Level Panic. What do you like most about playing her?
GW: Celia is the third-wheel in the household. She’s not as close to Mary and Jo as they are to each other, and so she’s constantly on the back foot trying to fit in. It doesn’t help that she’s awkward and a bit precious and not a particularly authentic person. I love playing someone who may come across as unlikeable in some respects. I think she’s fascinating, and there are so many layers to her that I am still uncovering. She’s a romantic dreamer but she’s also very practical. She’s obsessed with how she looks but then she reprimands others for being self-centred.
LT: Sometimes the combination of female sexuality and comedy can result in stereotyping. Do you feel tempted to bring a culturally appropriate history to the role? If not, how does Low Level Panic inspire you to challenge the audience?
GW: That’s a great question and something I have been thinking about a lot, because in some ways Celia actually could represent a stereotype of the naively sexual, beauty obsessed, vacuous, attractive woman. But that is only one layer to a reading of her, and the whole point of the play is to push against stereotypes. What’s great about Claire’s text is that the majority of it is set in a bathroom which is a private, intimate, sacred place. It’s a space where you can be incredibly mundane but also exposed and vulnerable at the same time, without really needing to try. And so we have this woman who is almost like an embodiment of The Beauty Myth, doing her daily bathroom routine, and we see behind the mask to who she really is, and who all the women are. And that’s something I don’t see very often on stage, and that’s inspiring to me.
LT: It has been said, that there can never be a true female theatre production because the female aesthetic is essentially subversive and therefore never commercial. Do you see Low Level Panic as being subversive, commercial or both? How?
GW: I don’t really know what to say about that. I can’t say I agree or disagree with that statement because I don’t feel like I’ve ruminated on it enough, or read enough about it. I want to say that of course the female aesthetic can be commercial! I would hope that I’ve seen “female” theatre that has been successful. But have I? How do we define “female” theatre? Is it that the themes of the play are “female” or just that the writer is female? Or that the director must be female too? If so, then our play is not “female” because we have Justin directing. But what’s interesting to me about him directing this play is that he is very aware that he is embodying the “male” gaze, which is the audience, which will be made up of men and women. I think a lot of women now watch things with a “male” gaze also because that is what we have learnt to do as we grow up in this world. We’re all aware of this as we make this show and we are trying to make the audience aware of it too. So hopefully it becomes a discussion about how we watch and judge women- on stage or in life. And I suppose that could be seen as subversive. But we hope it’s also entertaining enough that we make some money at the end of the run. So it needs to be commercial, also. Can it be both? We shall see…
LT: How have you identified with the layers of your character in Low Level Panic that separate it from any other character you’ve played?
GW: Every character is different, just like every human being is different. There are things about Celia that feel very close to my own experience of life, and there are things like the language she uses that I find difficult to embody because it’s not natural for me. I can see threads of her in other characters I have played- it’s hard not to as an actor. You’re always drawing on your own experiences and so you often get attracted to characters who have similarities, but she’s definitely her own special self. It’s one of the hardest plays I’ve had to wrap my head around because it’s seemingly quite mundane and there is a lot of subtext. Justin has also expanded it with all sorts of fun little extras which makes it very rich but it also means that we are genre-bending and breaking conventions a lot.
LT: Low Level Panic will be performed at The Old Fitz, an intimate indie venue. Tell us, who love indie theatre, what makes this type of production special for you?
GW: I’ve never performed at The Old Fitz before and that was a big reason for me wanting to do this. I love it as a space, and I’ve always had a brilliant night out when I’ve seen shows there. I also love the camaraderie that exists in the indie theatre scene. I want to support it and to be a part of it. I think it’s the place for challenging and whacky work, and I feel very lucky to be a part of a show that I think is politically and socially important and very relevant. It’s more immediate than any other play that I’ve done, and I’m excited by that. I think that’s the beauty of indie theatre not having to program so far in advance. I hope audiences continue to support indie theatre in Sydney because it’s where all our new stories could come from. These experimental “laboratories” like The Old Fitz are where we can keep evolving theatre and maintain it’s relevance.
Thank you Geraldine Hakewill.
5 Questions with Geraldine Hakewill and Amy Ingram
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.
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