Monday, 6 April 2009

Panic - West Yorkshire Playhouse

Panic by Improbable Theatre
Director: Julian Crouch and Lee Simpson
Reviewer: Clare Howdon

‘Panic’, the latest offering by Improbable Theatre is about, as Co-founder and performer Phelim McDermott states at the beginning of the play, ‘the great god pan and his nymphs’. However don’t go to this play expecting to see a run of the mill mythological play – there is an awful lot more to this performance.

The production is fairly enigmatic – it could mean a million different things. For me it highlighted that despite Pan’s death in AD33, he is still very much alive in our present society and we all have a bit of ‘pan’ in us; a mischievous side, which yearns for pleasure and doesn’t worry too much about the consequences. It is this strong philosophy which appears to run through the liberating, sexy and exciting 75 minute production.

The enjoyment of this piece is also helped along by the fact that it is very funny. Improvisation plays a large part in Improbable’s work and Phelim McDermott is a regular with the Comedy Store Players in London. McDermott has a magnetic stage presence and his interaction with the audience is nothing short of delightful. Luckily his three nymphs (played expertly by Lucy Foster, Matilda Leyser and Angela Clerkin) match McDermott’s performance, resulting in a highly complementary and effective cast. All four portray excellent storytelling and comic timing skills throughout; skills that are definitely needed in a play which leaps from the comic to the serious to the self confessional in quick and random succession.

It is difficult to decipher in ‘Panic’ where the characters end and the performers begin and this is another endearing trait, very reminiscent of Improbable’s earlier work. Life and art are blurred and what results are some beautifully personal and poignant stories, told with complete unassuming honesty and empathy by the four-strong cast.

Co-Directors Julian Crouch and Lee Simpson, along with Designer Phil Eddolls, make full use of Improbable’s inimitable style and draw upon various theatrical devices which keep the audience (young and old alike) engaged throughout. Puppetry, shadow work, projections and a truly multi functional set (which comprises completely of brown paper being pulled and shifted in various different directions to create locations such as a storm-tossed ship, billowing clouds, eyelids for the nymphs tears and McDermott's book-lined apartment) are all used with great effect and add to the child-like magic of this production.

Despite some highly theatrical moments, the ultimate reason why ‘Panic’ (and many other Improbable plays) grab and delight the audience is Improbable’s unfaltering ability to merge the highly theatrical with their own self-aware and self deprecating sense of humour. There is a fantastic throw away one-liner after a beautifully executed storm scene where a goatee and horn clad McDermott bellows ‘Don’t let it look like a scene change!’. Improbable Theatre never take themselves too seriously and it is this ethos which stops them from ever stepping over into pretentious territory.

Panic runs at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until sat 9th April 09
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