Here’s a play that came into being with no set outcome in mind, for a change. Born out of improvisation sessions, the comedy A Structured Panic created by the four actors and their director from Linacre comes in bits and pieces, deals with a little bit of everything but makes sense if you enjoy a good laugh and don’t take life nor drama too seriously.
When the lights are switched off, and some last chatters are still audible from the tiers, disharmonious notes from a guitar jingle to us, the audience, from somewhere in the darkness and thus leave us from the start with a big question mark that will stay with us throughout the play.
When the lights are switched on again, we are faced with four characters, each of them peculiar in their own right. They seem to be working in a perfume company, and take us through the ordinary odyssee of a business man or woman’s life: the secretary’s seductive advances towards her boss, the boss’ sleazy dispatch of the job applicant, the dreams and hopes of an employee in the lower third of the hierarchy all look familiar.
Then there’s another layer: the four stylised characters have, strangely enough, animal names, and as it dawns on the spectator after a while, the characters operating in the human structure of the company office are in fact animals that have survived the big Flood in the safety of the Arch, and have now gone on to normal life and work again.
The experience has been traumatizing for all of them, though, as they vividly manifest during various ‘meditative therapy’ sessions. As the secretary and ‘Peacock’, played by Philly Howarth, bursts out in tears declaring that make-up is her ‘real, unimaginery problem’, or as Samuel Elliott, acting exceptionally well as Lama a.k.a. unconfident job applicant, dreams of being a Zebra, or as Becky Hancock as the Hedgehog/employee feels unloved and all prickly, or, finally, as Aidan Robinson as the boss and Badger has a coming out when he confesses really being a skunk, it is clear that these guys know their acting.
There were slips of the tongue, there was nervousness, but they may be blamed on the frequent changes to the play throughout its preparation (there have even been modifications a couple of hours before the staging of the play). There was the fragmentary, rather confusing structure of the play (a sequence of scenes interrupted by darkness and guitar playing), there was a jigsaw of issues tackled (such as identity and the professional world), but it’s not like they didn’t warn us from the start by calling their piece A Structured Panic. Splendid acting, engaging humour, and a variety of day-to-day aches and pains, but to come back to my initial advice: not to be taken too seriously.