Panic - Improbable Theatre Company
Unity Theatre, Liverpool
"What would happen if the Great God Pan died? All of the Nymphs would die too."
So mourns Phelim McDermott in Panic, the latest mind-bending offering from Improbable Theatre. A rambling exploration of love and sex, mythology and masculinity, Panic unfolds like a guided tour through the neuroses of modern man. In a shifting landscape of forests, cities and bedrooms, McDermott plays an ordinary guy with an unfortunate medical condition while Angela Clerkin, Lucy Foster and Matilda Leyser are the nubile nymphs who materialize as he transforms from a mild-mannered self-help addict into the lascivious God of Nature, Panic and Disorder.
In the bizarre world of Improbable Theatre, this somehow manages to make sense. The action swings between melodramatic clowning and solemn monologue, with a healthy dose of explicit shadow puppetry thrown in for good measure. McDermott is superbly diverse. His comical physicality during the transformation scene elicits shouts of laughter in a packed Unity Theatre, but the audience maintain their sympathy with his character despite being flipped through a procession of surreal scenarios. As Pan wrestles with his conflicting masculinity, McDermott and the Nymphs start to tell their own stories, balancing the play’s comic sexuality with everyday tales of love, fear and friendship.
These sections stand out for their engaging honesty, without which the play would be lost. In sections placed on the kitchen chair, as cabaret turns into a confessional, the lines between actor and character begin to blur. Within this intimate therapy session we are treated to some hauntingly beautiful monologues, most notably Lucy Foster’s entrancing cityscape of drunken encounters and magical musicians.
Julian Crouch and Phil Eddolls’ brown-paper set creates the perfect backdrop for the performance, taking on a life of its own as it is looped, hoisted and crumpled to represent the dreamlike landscapes. The inventive use of projections and lighting, by Lysander Aston and Colin Grenfell, create some of the most striking imagery in the performance, and would appear exceptional on a much bigger stage than the Unity.
Panic transfers to the Barbican in mid-April, and deserves to be a success. Through their funny, grotesque and visually stunning dreamscapes, Improbable live up to their reputation as one of the most innovative companies in Britain. Panic is undoubtedly peculiar, but completely engaging. When the frenetic pace subsides and Pan and the Nymphs collapse into a contented heap on the forest floor, I almost feel like I’ve been on a journey with them – although I have no idea where this journey has led to.
Amy Jane Clewes