Ontological Theatre / Richard Foreman, Panic! (How to be Happy!)

Review in Issue 15-2 | Summer 2003

Panic! is a dense, multi-layered, non-narrative theatre piece that unfolds over an hour and a quarter in the studio space of St Mark’s Church. The ensemble of four actors and five stagehands cavort through many actions that continually shift, freeze and repeat themselves to a poetic text that they speak or that is relayed by an outside voice through loudspeakers. The continual sound of breaking glass accompanies their actions; this exaggerated sound effect lending the whole piece an air of fragility.

Dressed in outlandish fancy dress costumes and in a highly sculptural set that looks like ‘Alice in Wonderland meets budget religious game show’, the eye never rests – nor indeed do the actors. They give performances that have a disconcerting truth to them. They neither pump the emotional mill nor do they simply act themselves, they inhabit broad roles such as a caricature Spanish pirate that are so not them, that the person is visible underneath and an unlikely dialogue between the two established. The integrity of their performances is central as this holds the piece together during the moments when as an audience member I felt I was swimming.

Between the heavy sexual imagery amid impending catastrophe I saw a search for an idea of paradise emerge. It is a rare pleasure to be offered in the theatre something so unremittingly complex and that also has feeling and wit in equal measure.

Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Mar 2003

This article in the magazine

Issue 15-2
p. 27