Don't Panic! It's Challenge Anneka
An impressive Sophie Winter explores anxiety with unflinching honesty
With a brilliant smile and mildly grating gusto, a shell-suited Sophie Winter, in the guise of 90s TV star Anneka Rice, goes the extra mile to ensure her audience's comfort, greeting them enthusiastically with cushions, Haribo and cartons of Ribena. At first appearing to be no more than a welcome triviality, these items soon gain greater significance as symbols of safety and refuge, a means of establishing a sense of comfort for a show that tackles humorously, but with uncompromising directness, the reality of life with of anxiety.
An entirely solo show, Winter makes use of a distinctively 90s television set, on which plays a series of recorded videos, as a means of conducting dialogue between characters. As Anneka, she introduces the audience to Hollie, a twentysomething schoolteacher, driven to her lowest ebb by a debilitating anxiety disorder, and promises to apply her relentlessly can-do attitude to alleviating Hollie's condition. Though Winter's timing in her interactions with the video is impressive, the sheer difficulty of the feat creates a distracting tension, and the pre-recorded nature of the videos can leave the conversations feeling a bit flat.
Yet the device also provides an opportunity for a range of highly effective scenes. A late sequence, in which Hollie builds a pillow fort in a desperate search for refuge, while a television screen machine-guns clips of her family and friends' trite but well-intentioned advice, captures the acute terror of an anxiety attack with intense accuracy.
There are some structural problems: the inelegant way the production knits together real-life accounts of anxiety leads to some clunky gear changes as the production shifts from one story to another. But though the narrative at times exposes its seams, Don't Panic! It's Challenge Anneka does an excellent job of reconciling a sunny approach with a heavy subject. Winter deftly incorporates warmth and humour into an unflinchingly authentic portrayal of life with anxiety, culminating in a thoughtful conclusion that is grounded, without being cynical, and buoyantly optimistic.
Summerhall, until 28 Aug (not 22), 2.50pm, £10 (£8).