The Pit, London EC2
  Opened 16 April, 2009

There ought to be a formal rule for shows devised around a central theme: decide what you want to put in, then cut a third of it before showing it to an audience. It’s not always the case that such pieces end up baggy, with some bits that are too tenuously linked to the main assemblage... but it is true often enough to make a useful working assumption. Even Phelim McDermott and his colleagues in the inexhaustibly inventive Improbable company are not immune to its sway.
The starting point of Panic is the great god Pan: as one of the four performers puts it, a god not just of nature but of your nature, of responses uncomplicated by social or moral accretions (hence “panic” itself). But before you go very far, you already have an unhelpfully diverse bagful of topics: love and sex, obviously, with all that nymph-chasing; but he is also god of meadows, bees, rustic music, nightmares, even of rape. Then bolt on some second-degree associations: McDermott talking about bouts of prostatitis that affected his sexual activity and labyrinthitis which destroyed his sense of balance; truth-and-lies, so that each of the quartet appears to share an intimate secret with us but we can never quite be sure of their honesty; an obsession with self-help books (I’m quite tempted by Embracing Your Inner Critic, less so by The Shamanic Way Of The Bee – both real titles); even Buffalo Bill simply, as far as I can see, because that goatee beard makes him look a bit Pan-like. Add Improbable’s combination of informality and invention in staging, resulting in everything from a set draped in brown paper and a huge phallus made from twigs and adhesive tape to puppetry, shadowplay and aerialism... And before you know it you’ve got far too much material for a 100-minute show that shouldn’t even be that long in the first place.
McDermott, Angela Clerkin, Matilda Leyser and even Lucy Foster who doesn’t class herself as a performer are all adroit and engaging, but the overall show is about as plausibly shaped as, well, a half-human figure with furry legs, goat’s hooves, horns, tail and a big packet, capering around playing on a pipe. All that and they didn’t even work in the Smiths song.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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