Saturday, 25 April 2009

Panic in the Barbican

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I frequently endure mild panic as I enter the Barbican complex. For varied reasons I am often late or have poorly described plans for meeting places. I get shown around by those helpful runners that guide late-comers to their ticketing desks and seats. I'm actually a member as well, but this doesn't make any difference and the idea of spending time in the special lounge might appeal but has yet to occur.

Saturday was no different as we crossed town from Chelsea in order to see Improbable's 'Panic' in the Barbican Pit. We ran across concourses, we ran down spiralling stairs, we hung a left to get tickets. We made our way into the already darkened theatre. The performance had started. The actors were on stage. "Hello", said Phelim from the stage, "...and Welcome".

We sat, gathered our wits and decided whether to be panic-ed or to take off in another direction.

Multi dimensioned, with a level describing the actors, a level around the on stage personas and then a further flight into the mystic, this is a magical and spellbinding performance.

There's a dreamlike sequencing, where what's top, bottom, left and right becomes difficult to fathom, but always within the theme of The Great God Pan being both everywhere and stuck alone waiting for his Nymphs in a bedsit in Brixton.

P1010549I enjoy the quirky portrayal, the gear changes between actors playing in the various levels, and the way even the stage's visual plane is adjusted for some of the scenes.

Pan is a tough god to deliver. Panic, bufoonery, cloven hoofed paganism, fooling with nymphs in the woods, horns sufficient to have him re-written as the devil. Or as a particularly *ahem* three dimensional character of the sort you wouldn't get in any IMAX.

Pan-character Phelim McDermott and his strong cast of (P)angela Clerkin, Lucy Foster and Matilda Leyser ran a slickly timed though intentionally haphazard performance to be proud of - "Can someone help me with the legs?" called for some complex puppetry. There was a full and metropolitan audience who laughed their way through the right parts of the show and clearly approved.

An episode about self improvement set in the middle layer labyrinth of the Brixton flat was made complex by the piles of books and sharp things on the floor which could be removed by event vacuuming. I would have sensed a random 'self -help title generator' if it wasn't for the real books being produced from brown carrier bags to illustrate the theme.

There were dream sequences with aerial swishery and personal revelations from the actors where it became deliberately difficult to determine whether these were from characters or the people themselves.

But lets not forget Pan's stand-up role in the woodlands with the nymphs. There was more than an eyeful of that too, along with revelations from the nymphs themselves of their special healing properties and other appropriate dispositions.

The staging, lighting and mystical music (was that Dolly Pardon being played backwards at one point?) added to the atmosphere of being transported into a woodland and later into the Labyrinth. Brown paper and straw featured heavily in the set which worked exceptionally well as a component of the production.

As I left, in my mind I could still hear twigs snapping, the hoot of an owl and the flutter of a bird taking off... or was it the rustle of a self help book?

Londoners...Go see!
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