Low Level Panic – Women under oppression from the male gaze. (Theatre Review)

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Low Level Panic

Thread Entertainment in association with Red Line Productions

Old Fitz Theatre from 12 July to 12 August. You can grab your tickets here

Images: Julia Robertson

When I’m confronted with a friend who despises political correctness, my first move is to agree wholeheartedly! I claim that the worst form of political correctness was to obliterate “her” “she” “woman” “lady” “girl” and so on from all public documents on behalf of the white male minority group who demanded “he” and “him” and “men” was the only way we could speak about the human being. I agree that this original, only successful form of political correctness was enormously damaging to free speech and obliterated the majority from the public discourse.

But it’s not entirely true is it? Women were not obliterated from the public discourse; they were  allocated a certain portion that defined the way they are seen – even to themselves. The male gaze as its (dis)affectionately known now is not restricted to the way males objectify and sexualize the female body, rather it is more powerful in what it refuses. Women are objects of sex and lust to heterosexual males and lesbian or bisexual females, but as a sexual female I will admit to observing males strictly through the lens of sexual object occasionally, and in fact using images of them shamelessly to get myself off. It’s not being seen as object for the sexual gratification of an Other that hurts women. It is when this is the only permitted narrative that we begin to get into dark areas that include violence and oppression. It’s not the way men look at us that causes trouble, it’s when that narrative is interrupted by an alternative possibility, and men turn to violence in their fear, that women’s freedom is compromised. When women complain about the way men see them it is not their words but their fists they are afraid of.

In 2015 an Australian woman was twice as likely as a man to be a victim of assault in the street and six times more likely to be the victim in a relationship assault. A woman is five times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault, including male and female children. (2015 Australian Government statistics)

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Low Level Panic currently showing at The Old Fitz examines the effect this singular vision has on the way women see themselves. Written by Claire McIntyre in the late 80’s the show as a standalone performance of the three women in their bathroom reveals how far women have come in the last thirty years. Jo’s (Amy Ingram) sublimated self hatred, Mary’s (Kate Skinner) inability to go to the police or get counseling and Celia’s (Geraldine Hakewill) obsession with male standards of beauty may be diluted by more empowering options today.  However, director Justin Martin includes a chorus of males in the production, not only on stage, but in the on-line cyber misogyny women experience every time they seek to step beyond the male gaze. Martin has a screen at the top of the production reeling off line after line of ignorance as men display aggression and violence in the face of a female acting any other role than the pre-prescribed sexual objectified one men need for their comfort. If women have changed a lot in the last thirty years, Justin Martin suggests men have not. Women may have more choices today, and more resources to reduce self-loathing, but they still suffer identical violent backlash from males when they step beyond male imposed boundaries.

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The on stage male chorus (Joshua McElroy, Caleb Alloway, Luke Carson, Patrick Cullen, Scott Eveleigh, David Lang and Brendon Taylor) spend the bulk of the production sitting on chairs to the side watching the women. Occasionally they take part, perform roles or assist with stage management, but it is their unwavering gaze and the oppressive feel of its weight that bring Justin Martin’s production into the current day. The set design by Jonathan Hindmarsh reduces the Old Fitz stage to half its size. By including the men, the ramshackle bathroom is converted into various other settings, including a spectacular party scene incorporating acrobatics in its magnitude.

But this one really belongs to the women, Amy Ingram in particular, who spends the first twenty minutes of the production in all her naked glory, without a male-sanctioned figure type as protection. We are presented with her body in all its offensive realness, its curves and rolls a glorious reminder of the ugly truth of female humanity. There is still something shocking about the unashamed nudity of a woman who defies male imposition of beauty and one of the great joys of the production is the way Ingram confronts and exploits that artifice. She is supported by Kate Skinner and Geraldine Hakewill, but neither of those women bare the bold statement Ingram can make because her figure is such an affront to all that men demand woman should be. Not to be left behind however, Skinner bears the brunt of the violence conversation with a self-consciousness every woman recognizes just as Hakewill represents the buff and pluck routines women equally understand. The three women present superb performances that alternately forge shudders and smiles of recognition in all the women in the room.

Low Level Panic is one of the stand-out productions of the 2016 year – a year of many great productions. Make sure you grab a ticket, and take a daughter, sister, mother or girlfriend to this one. It’s well worth it.

Highly Recommended.

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