In 2013, award-winning international theatre director, Justin Martin, was invited by a friend to direct a show for her company. The show would be staged at Ireland’s annual Galway Theatre Festival.
“We spent months trawling through plays trying to find something which we felt spoke directly to what was happening in Ireland,” Martin tells Theatre People. “At the time there had been a series of incidents in which young people had been filmed – without their knowledge – whilst engaged in public sexual acts.
“Sadly the response to those events was predictably archaic with the girl involved labeled a slut, the boy a legend and the person holding the camera an innocent bystander. We knew we found something extraordinary when we stumbled upon Clare McIntyre’s Low Level Panic.”
Low Level Panic presents female sexuality and self-image through the eyes of three women; three housemates who bicker over bathroom time, fight over the significance of pornography, fantasize and party. It’s billed as a foul-mouthed, funny and unflinching exploration of the ways in which we view women’s lives, their bodies, their safety and their sexuality.
Martin was at the helm of Low Level Panic for two sold-out seasons at the Galway Theatre Festival, as well as a national tour of Ireland. Next week, his highly acclaimed production of the award-winning play arrives in Sydney at the Old Fitz Theatre, thanks to Thread Entertainment and Red Line Productions.
So, how is it that Martin has come to find himself directing the work once more, but this time on the other side of the globe?
“Kate Skinner – who plays the role of Mary in the production – and I did a workshop of a new play together in Sydney a few years’ back, and we got talking about Low Level Panic and our production in Ireland,” Martin says.
“Kate suggested it would be a good fit for Sydney and the Old Fitz. Andrew, Vanessa and the team at the Old Fitz agreed.”
Describing Martin as an accomplished director is to seriously understate the facts. For the past two years, he’s been directing on the Netflix series The Crown under Oscar-nominated director, Stephen Daldry. Starring English actors Claire Foy and Matt Smith, the £100 million (A$176 million) series focuses on the life of Queen Elizabeth II, from the years that followed her coronation to the present day.
Martin says filming of the first series recently wrapped and it’s expected to hit screens in November.
“Working on such a large series was exhausting but exhilarating and I think, fingers crossed, it will be huge,” he says.
Additionally, Martin worked recently as associate director on the New York and London seasons of Skylight, starring Carey Mulligan and Bill Nighy, and The Audience, starring Helen Mirren (in New York) and Kristen Scott Thomas (in London). And if that’s not enough, Martin is also associate director on international productions of the Tony and Olivier Award-winning work, Billy Elliott the Musical.
Martin tells Theatre People that, most recently, he’s been in London working on the development of a new play, examining the creation and destruction of the refugee camp in Calais, France known as ‘The Jungle’, where migrants lived while attempting to illegally enter the United Kingdom.
“Last year, two writer friends started The Good Chance Theatre in the camp and I spent time there directing with refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria and Eritrea who were all trying to get to London,” Martin says. “Our commission has allowed us to develop something larger in the UK which uses both refugee and professional UK actors to explore what looks to be the issue of our age.”
Martin says that while he’s been fortunate to have built a career encompassing work in the US, Europe and the UK, what excites him most is creating work that intersects with an Australian audience. He then discusses another exciting project, which will afford him the opportunity to add to his local body of work.
“I’m in the process of developing a new play with BMEC in Bathurst about the first opera performed in the region at the Bathurst Migrant Camp in the early 50’s,” he shares. “In some ways, it plots the beginning of Australia’s journey to multiculturalism.
“I’m also slated to direct The Nether for Catnip Productions at the Seymour Centre next year. It’s an amazingly powerful play looking at the complex morality of the web. And we’re beginning work on season two of The Crown.
“I’m always drawn to work which ultimately entertains but also has the potential to move beyond the arts pages.”
Turning the conversation back to the show at hand, Theatre People asks Martin to talk about his experience working with his Australian cast for Low Level Panic, a cast that features Geraldine Hakewill, Amy Ingram and Kate Skinner.
“On a play such as this, I feel like I’m purely the facilitator for three extraordinary actors to explore the female gaze. It’s been an hilarious learning experience,” he says.
“I didn’t grow up with sisters and so I’m constantly learning. What always strikes home to me with this show is how deeply Clare McIntyre tapped into the experience of women of a certain age. All the actors at one time or another have expressed the sentiment that they’ve actually said lines that the characters say.”
And what precisely does Martin personally find so appealing about Low Level Panic?
“I enjoy the honesty of the play and its potential for theatricality. It tells the story of three women living in a share house and all the intricacies of those relationships played out in their shared bathroom. It’s funny, theatrical and insightful. I learn from it and our extraordinary cast every day.
“I hope Australian audiences are, at the least, entertained and, at the most, provoked to continue a dialogue about the future of how we address issues relating to the male and female gaze.”
LOW LEVEL PANIC – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Old Fitz Theatre, 129 Dowling Street (Cnr Cathedral Street), Woolloomooloo
Season: 12 July – 12 August 2016
Times: Tues-Sat 7.30pm, Sunday 5pm
Price: $38 Adult, $33 Concession, $28 Previews and Cheap Tuesday