The Barbican's Panic is many things. Clever, thoughtful and entertaining are not among them. More appropriate adjective could, however, include masturbatory, juvenile and limp. From the moment that Phelim McDermot removes his clothing and embarks on a nearly two hour show and tell about his fixation on "the great god Pan" (the devilishly anrachic folk master of sex and lust), you can hardly help but slump down into your armrest-less seat and sigh. This is going to be a long ride in the back seat and the driver won't let you roll down the windows for a breath of fresh air.
As a company, Improbable has earned a reputation for creating innovative and experimental theatre since their appearance on the scene in the 90's. Here, McDermot's passion project undermines the group mentality and this "ensemble show" becomes more of a solo piece with human props. This is a shame because the three female "nymphs" who cater to the whims of McDermot's navel-gazing fantasy are uniquely and individually talented, especially the truly pixie-like Matilda Leyser who dazzles audience members with her gravity defying contortion and aerial skills. It is just too bad that she is manipulated by the heavily soil bound McDermot and his recollections of bouts with labyrinthitis, his unnervingly large collection of self help books and ten foot prick made of spindly twigs (the effect of which is about as flimsy as the packing tape that holds it together). And, oh yes, this somehow all relates to "the great god Pan". Or so you are repeatedly told.
It would be unfair not to give due credit to the creative team behind this unfortunate attempt at creative storytelling. Although the set and the majority of the props and costumes are made solely out of brown paper (yes, like the bags), the effect is surprisingly beautiful: the many limbering layers unfold and fall to create an illusion of depth that is enough to pleasantly detract from the action, if just for a few fleeting moments. Video and small-scale puppetry are well executed, but suspiciously trite. Getting a good technician to manipulate a couple of high contrast images and video clips cannot be equated to ingenuity (contrary to popular belief). In fact, it can barely be equated to novelty.
Unless you fancy yourself an aspiring disciple of "the great god Pan", hope to make number 148 on Phelim McDermot's list of women had or simply want to visit the ducks who congregate around the benches and fountains outside the Barbican (they are quite friendly!), don't bother. Stay home and have a good wank; Pan would probably approve.