Following a successful run at the 2016 Edinburgh Festival, on the button have now brought one-woman show Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka to The Bunker Theatre for a limited time – it’s running alongside PearShaped’s Conquest. Sophie Winter wrote the show using real-life stories for inspiration and help from UCL researchers, as well as her own battle with anxiety that has gripped her for the past 15 years.
Holly is a teacher, who’s living in London and trying to deal with the challenges thrown up by anxiety. And who better than Anneka Rice to try and fix such a problem, right? Challenge Anneka was the highlight of Holly’s week as a child, where she’d settle down in front of the TV with her Ribena & Haribo and watch as Anneka overcame all the odds to complete whatever task she’d been set within about three days. It’s in this manner that we’re taken through Holly’s struggles, Anneka running at them head-on while we see how Holly responds. And when the real Anneka Rice has a word with her, it’s then that Holly realises that there’s no quick fix, but constant work & care over the course of many years – it doesn’t just stop when the credits roll.
Taking the concept of Challenge Anneka as well as portraying Anneka herself is a clever move. Holly rightly sees that her anxiety is a problem to be fixed, but it’s only by going through the process that she realises the limitations of one episode of a television programme and the ongoing work that ensues. It clearly and concisely highlights the main hurdles Holly encounters on a daily basis, and how it all manifests itself; what starts out as something purely mental can quickly snowball into the physical. The contrast between Holly & Anneka in terms of their personalities & approaches is also a useful device as between them it balances out quite well.
There’s terrific use of multimedia, with Winter making light work of interacting with pre-filmed segments (Matt Stacey) in which she plays all the characters. This method helps to take the show down a funnier route than you might expect, but that definitely works in its favour. Not only does it make for an entertaining night out, but it helps the more serious moments land that bit harder – and I also think trying to do an incredibly earnest piece about anxiety is something of a minefield, so it’s best to steer clear. A fun, yet practical, approach like this one is effective in demonstrating the apparent triviality of some things Holly encounters, whilst also raising awareness of the condition and (hopefully) providing a boost to any sufferers watching.
Sophie Winter is a very engaging and versatile performer. She’s utterly convincing in every role she takes on, from Holly & Anneka, to her boss & a scientific expert – not to mention Holly’s younger brother! Winter delivers the material with real conviction, and has the audience in the palm of her hand from the moment they enter the auditorium. Her comic timing is great, and she’s a clear & compelling speaker.
My verdict? An entertaining & educational evening, making excellent use of multimedia to tell Holly’s story – Sophie Winter is a terrific performer.
Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka runs at The Bunker Theatre until 9 June 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office. Double bill tickets are on offer if you see Conquest on the same night.