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. You can grab your tickets here. 


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.

Low Level Panic is on at The Old Fitz from 12 July to 12 August. You can grab your tickets here.