Edinburgh Fringe Review: Freak

by eloisehendy

Should I go?

There are swear words and disturbing scenes. ‘Sexual reference’ is an understatement. So if you have never had ‘that talk’ from your parents, or will walk out at the utterance of the c-word, then maybe not. Otherwise, yes. Yes you should.

What’s it about?

Sex. It’s all about sex. There is no avoiding it – this is not a reserved or restrained show. It is full-bodied, explicit and all about sex. Specifically, it is about women having sex. Freak plays on female desire, empowerment, control and self-destruction.

It is about two women. One is fresh faced, inexperienced and hasn’t yet worked out how to touch herself; the other is world-weary and tests how many times she can climax during Homes Under The Hammer. It’s a simple premise. Innocence versus experience, the Virgin and the Whore – this is one of the oldest contrasts in the book. But hey, so is Father and Son and we’re still watching Hamlet.

What did you think?

Sex sells. Specifically, the female sex sells. Breasts, thighs and the space in between the thighs are everywhere.

So Freak may appear superfluous. The female sex isn’t new or original – it isn’t something that we haven’t seen before. Is Anna Jordan merely retelling an age-old story? With some swear words and pop songs thrown in for the ‘hyper-sexualised generation’, grown up on Britney and Miley and hair removal cream?

At times this show seems, like it’s younger character Leah, to be trying too hard. As Leah tries out sexy poses in front of the mirror, Freak turns on Beyoncé and flashes some blue lighting. It wants to be how it is described in the blurb: “punchy and provocative”. It, like its female protagonists, wants to be freaky.

I wish it didn’t try quite so much. Because under the awkward pop song transitions and the staging (a messy double bed? Like that gash Tracey Emin did, yeah?) there is a compelling and moving script. Anna Jordan’s direction detracts from her written words. And the words, even the swear words, are not superfluous, but potent.

We might have seen the sex card played before, or heard the coming of age tale before, or realised that there is a Virgin/Whore dichotomy before, but that doesn’t stop these individual narratives from enthralling us. Sex sells because it is powerful and universal and throws up all kinds of issues. The stories on this stage are not new. They are about growing up and being uncomfortable in your skin, about using your body to feel strong and abusing your body when you feel weak. They are not new, but they are intimately recognisable. They hit home.

Leah’s story is a nearly perfect enactment of the insecurity, confusion, curiosity and naivety of teenage girls. April Hughes, with her often-flicked blonde hair and pink pyjamas, brilliantly embodies the schoolgirl who is desperate to be a treated like a grown up, yet unsure of what that really means.

Georgie’s narrative strikes harder. Centring on a long, rough gangbang, under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, this side of the dichotomy holds no youthful sweetness. Here sex is purely release – a pleasure high that is just another means of vacating the body, like drugs or drink. It is disturbing, raw and confrontational. Sex doesn’t come off very well in this play.

Freak made me want to hug my mum, my boyfriend and all my female friends. Because for all the staging issues, the simple structure and the desire to provoke, it is affecting. It often feels far too close for comfort. Even in the most brutal, violent and cold moments of Georgie’s narrative, the clash between autonomous empowerment and objectification is familiar. It’s one of the oldest stories in the book. If the direction was reconsidered, this could be a profoundly moving and important piece.

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