Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Panic - Barbican Theatre

Panic by Improbable Theatre
Directors: Julian Crouch and Phil Eddolls

Reviewer: Honour Bayes

Panic should be a show which works brilliantly, but instead it gets caught like a fawn in the headlights and what is left is a blinking and uncertain affair.
Harking back to the smaller scale work which marked Improbable out in the 90s, Panic is an intimate exploration of the ‘Great God Pan’ created from a blend of personal stories from the cast, personal interests from the creative team, and the personal work which came out of the devising process together. Is there a pattern emerging here?

Beautifully crafted projections, a sophisticated if bawdy sound design and a grotesquely attractive Phelim McDermott in hooves, horns and a huge wicker cock, it’s not as though there isn’t a lot to entice in this show. But for all the treats on offer here, this is never the less a self absorbed and messy look at sex, love and Pan himself. His propensity for pleasure and his violent yet awkward desperation in achieving it seems to be something that would ring chimes with all trying to express themselves sexually within our constipated modern culture. But in Panic, this twisting bestial journey win
ds its way through nothing but the intangible ramblings of a very talented but vague company.

Each section pervades the next with truisms mingling with lies to make this a quagmire of a performance which ponders from one thought to the next. There is nothing to hold on to as one sinks into said mire with a deadening sense that these people don’t really know what it is that they are trying to say. Indeed the heart of this show, which initially hinted at some depth within, is eventually revealed, with a rustle and a wink, to be as empty as the paper bags it shapes itself out of.

This seems a waste as these are extremely lovable performers who could have created work with real heart. From Phelim McDermott’s wide eyed, chubby Pan who flits from innocent to devil with a permanent twinkle, to our matter of fact Nymphs, Angela Clerkin, Lucy Foster and Matilda Leyser; each one beautiful and alluring whilst also highly unobtainable, this piece is peppered with charmingly down to earth performances. But as the performance progresses calm anxiety seems to descend
over the cast as they begin to wink and nudge a little too hard, willing the audience along with them through their personal fragmented journey with a desperation which borders on (perhaps intentionally?) panic. It is possible that they are exploring the sense of embarrassment that permeates the image of Pan as ‘a sort of cloven-hoofed Benny Hill’ but it goes further than that; they seem to want us to laugh so much because they need us on their side and are not sure the material will do that on its own.

A truly post-modern affair, this could have been so much more than the sum of its intriguing parts, but instead of weaving them together into a coherent exploration, this show simply takes each image, memory, experience and feeling, and meshes them together in a piece which probably makes perfect sense to those who created it, but loses everyone else in a series of imaginative, but completely self-absorbed, explorations. But then as Pan was also the god of chaos, maybe this jumble of a production was exactly the kind of thing he would have wanted.

Panic runs at the Barbican until 16th May 09
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