BWW Reviews: Panic Patterns @ Citizens Theatre, Glasgay 2010

By: Oct. 21, 2010

A Glasgay! commission and a new play by two of Scotland's most prominent contemporary authors, Louise Welsh and Zoe Strachan, Panic Patterns tells the story of Jacq and Fay, a couple - both ornithologists - who find themselves stranded on a remote Scottish island during an investigation into the strange migration patterns of local birds. Played out on a minimalist cabin set designed by Colin O'Hara, the play joins the couple five days after their boat home was meant to arrive, with their relationship already straining under a heady mix of stress, worry and cabin fever.

Veronica Leer's Fay, it turns out, is beginning to see signs, interpreting the birds' strange habits as significant of an oncoming disaster. This gives way to the character's concerns about her relationship with the older Jacq, university lecturer turned lover who, Fay accuses, has been spending too much time with another of her postgraduate students. Leer's interpretation of a character layered with insecurities is remarkable, at once childish and frightened, whilst being fierce and at times violent towards her lover.

Jacq, played by Selina Boyack, is similarly complex, a realist who dismisses Fay's assertions of a wider mystery, expresses her concern, yet sees ghosts and figures through the cabin window, at one point rushing out to find out more and being attacked by birds in the proccess.

The depth of the two women's relationship is amongst the play's strengths, tightly written with a range of conflict and drama arising naturally out of an esoteric story. The relationship is played out with the women in turn pushing each other away and holding onto each other in the dark in such a way that might have crippled lesser writers. That Welsh and Strachan are themselves a couple is not insignificant, lending a certain gravitas to their depiction of the central relationship. That they are both perhaps better known as novelists, too, is apparent in their presentation of not one but two deep and deftly-written characters of a type that is rare outside of the realms of monologue.

Nichola Scrutton's sound design plays a starring role, with radio static and occassional music adding colour and depth to the minimalist set design. O'Hara's island cabin, it's easy to forget, is made from a suspended wooden frame, with only rope and chalk markings to give the cabin definition. The wind in the wires and the creaking of the cabin becomes symbolic of Jacq and Fay's relationship groaning under its own weight, unsteady and ready to topple down at any moment.

The central mystery of the birds and their strange migration patterns is used as a metaphor throughout, and an innovative route into argument and self-analysis. However, that the play offers so much in terms of the history of the island and the biology of the birds - with a professor from Glasgow University's Department of Ornithology named amongst the thank yous - is almost frustrating, given it's lack of any real pay off. Indeed, at times it almost feels as if the mystery is in the way of the drama, being explained and examined to drive attention away from the real mysteries at the heart of the two women's relationship.

An arresting play, nonetheless, that makes the most of a strong precinct to explore an even stronger set of characters and a complex relationship.