Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka, is an entertaining piece of devised theatre for sure. From the onset, the audience enters the theatre space and are welcomed by actor Sophie Winter wearing a bright blonde wig, an 80s puffer jacket and a bum bag, while handing out a choice of goodies (Ribena, Haribo and Raisins), clearly winning over the audience.
In the beginning, we meet Holly, a teacher suffering from anxiety, who is also a big fan of the TV show “Challenge Anneka” and its host Anneka Rice. As the play progresses, the audience is informed that today’s challenge is to cure Holly’s anxiety and Anneka Rice will be the one to tackle this head-on.
The dialogue throughout the performance is fast-paced and impeccably timed providing a continuous run of comical moments with the banter between the character on stage and multiple on-screen characters displayed on a sizeable 80s TV set (all effortlessly played by Sophie Winter). Over the course of the play, Winter switches between the role of Holly and Anneka Rice, with the pre-filmed screen characters changing to fit the scene. It certainly makes for an interesting use of multimedia as we learn more about the triggers, symptoms and ongoing hurdles of anxiety that Holly experiences.
Thinking about this piece regarding the topic of anxiety, as an introduction it works well. However, there could be moments where the audience forgets the seriousness of the disorder and that it affects a lot of people in many different ways. The audience could benefit from hearing more facts or stories about people dealing with anxiety and have more in-depth information about the different types of anxiety that people can experience. The real Anneka Rica appears on the screen towards the end to remind us all that anxiety can’t be cured in a day and that it is an ongoing process learning to deal with it in your own way and how it’s important to have that close support network around you.
As a finishing touch, Winter explains that she spoke to a sufferer of anxiety who mentioned that he would rather die than experience the symptoms of anxiety. This created a powerful wakeup call (after all the laughs) which I felt was missing from the rest of the performance.
It is a light-hearted, engaging and very entertaining piece of theatre which keeps audience members laughing out loud throughout. Winter really does command the audience’s attention and delivers a perfect piece of theatre for a fun evening out.