A hard-hitting and emotionally-charged show, The Panopticon looks at young people in the care system and finds them far, far from being supported with the type of care the system purports to provide. It is written by Jenni Fagan who is a survivor of the system herself and in 2012 wrote the original book on which the play is based. Her writing is strong, intelligently fierce, full of verve and peppered liberally with swearing; it is raw in its honesty.
Giving a wonderfully nuanced, but also direct and decidedly sparky performance, is Anna Russell-Martin, who plays the protagonist Anais. The key to Russell-Martin’s success in this role is not just that she embodies the role completely, but is also in how she brings alive that intelligence running through Fagan’s words and makes us root for her, no matter how she reacts to the world around her.
Because the story is so firmly rooted in Anais, despite the strong ensemble cast, the other figures can get lost. This may be a subtle way of demonstrating how some children slip through the net, are not noticed and their problems are never tackled, while those who are able to vocalise or gain attention in some way, while still not having their problems listened to, are at least a focus of a human being for a while.
This is the sad heart of the production- that all human beings need to know they are cared for, that they are loved for who they are, but, for the children in The Panopticon, while they may have a practical and superficial element of support, they are not being cared for in the way they crave.
The night of this review the performance was an accessible show, with two BSL signers on stage and relaxed audience rules in place. The signers were adapted into the show, so that they did not just stand at the side but were often beside – and sometimes part of – the action. This was really interesting and brought a new dimension to the story.
The set is beautifully designed, in a half circle of tall triangular structures that adapt as rooms, backdrops and striking columns. Dream – and nightmare - worlds are projected onto the set, and these sections are particularly effective, helping to set scenes and drawing us into the somewhat surreal mind of Anais, her thoughts and fears.
While the show never dulls as the pace barrels along (so much is contained within the piece), it can take some time to process everything that has been seen, lingering long after the show has ended.
Times: Tuesday 15 – Saturday 19 October @ 7.30pm, matinee Saturday 19 @ 2.30pm. Wednesday 16 is audio described & captioned; Thursday 17 is signed.
Photo by Mihaela Bodlovic