Sex is undisputably a political tool at the behest of men to denigrate, fetishise, and codify female bodies in order to put some double glazing on that glass ceiling. Ellie Ward’s confident, colourful, and urgent production of Anna Jordan’s ‘Freak’ for Dramasoc is a big ‘fuck you’ to male ownership of female bodies. Well it is, and it isn’t. To characterise the show in terms of, and only in terms of its prominent feminist message is to hold female artistic production up to yet another set of already-written standards. The play is also, and importantly, an insight into depression. It is about family relationships and the transience of life. This is absolutely not to downplay the incredibly vital feminism of the piece, but to suggest that Ward is trying to push beyond what is ‘expected’ of women in theatre. Ward’s production shows the pressing need for bad feminism, reliance on male validation, and sexual brazenness (see ‘arsehole mullet’) to be included in a feminist canon, in order for there to be truly equal representation. Why should female characters be expected to be piously feminist, when their male counterparts sure as shit aren’t?
Right from the pre-set, the production is abound with energy. Marie Colahan’s teenage Leah dances with abandon to Fizz Margereson’s expertly cut and vibrant soundtrack, comprising Estelle’s ‘Freak’ and Wynter Gordon’s ‘Dirty Talk.’ Sophie Shepherd’s set has two beds facing each other on a traverse stage, with each of the two performers positioned on their respective bed, delivering their monologues. Littered with clothes, half-eaten plates of food, and makeup, the set felt both incredibly real and, in its traverse-induced intimacy, luridly evocative of the kind of voyeurism that both the characters describe.
As much as this is clearly a well-put-together production, it is made by the performances. Both Colahan and Caitlin Burrows shine. Burrows’ arch, intimate, and intensely poignant portrayal of Georgie’s existential crisis drips with emotion, and is a formidable showcase of her considerable acting range. So often when adults play minors, it ends up grating, contrived, inaccurate, the list goes on… but Colahan’s Leah is touching, subtle, and well thought-out. She brings out something more than the cringe and sweat of early sexual experiences, as her highly assured performance sheds light on the difficult subject of power relations within teenage sexuality. The play constantly flits between the goddamn hilarity of sex, and the nauseating reality of it as a vehicle for power. Both performers skilfully navigate this terrain, one moment making you laugh and then turning on a sixpence to wind you with a horrifying truth about the expectations placed on women in the bedroom. Although this latter aspect does come to a definitive crisis, it is present throughout and is perhaps most powerful in those moments of relative dramatic lull; something that both performers time perfectly- (look out for Burrows’ gut-wrenching ‘and next to it… £40′ line.)
As the show progresses, Leah and Georgie’s monologues cut over each other, before culminating in a beautifully orchestrated final scene between the two. The incongruity between the humour and the seriousness is carefully managed, and the music of the interweaving monologues is on the whole brought forth successfully, with only a couple of occasions where I felt too much torn rather than a sense of unity between the two characters’ speeches. But this is pedantry. Ellie Ward’s production is hugely funny, as it satirises gender expectations without taking itself too seriously. That said, it is also immensely sad. The stellar performances of Caitlin Burrows and Marie Colahan unify both of these aspects to make ‘Freak’s vitally important point; a point never laboured in a show so full of surprises. Don’t miss it.
Catch the final two performances of ‘Freak’ in the Drama Barn, Saturday & Sunday 20th & 21st January, 7.30pm start. Ticket info available here.