On Twitter you may have noticed the storm of high praise that FREAK has received. A new play written and directed by Bruntwood prize winner Anna Jordan, FREAK was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year before transferring to Theatre503 in Battersea.
Sat in her bedroom, fifteen-year-old Leah, played by April Hughes, kicks off this poignant play by exclaiming, ‘I can be a freak. I can.’ Leah, who is currently dating Luke, the most attractive guy in the year, is determined to look perfect for her sexual debut – in her case this includes removing hair, watching porn and practising her climax face. During the first part of the play, Leah and her aunt Georgie (Lia Burge) address the audience directly, taking take turns sharing their sexual fantasies. Despite being slightly hindered by clunky scene changes, loud music and odd, repetitive movements, this was very effective. Done in a simple and clever way by having one character asleep whilst the other speaks, these transitions highlighted the contrast between Leah and Georgie’s needs and desires, as well as providing the piece with a fast pace.
The encounters between the two characters and their sexual partners are particularly affecting. For instance, after Leah and Luke have been together for a while, Luke suggests that Leah should ‘give something’ to a mutual friend, who has let them stay in his house. Leah refuses, but her naivety is unsettling. Georgie, on the other hand, who has been left by her partner, takes up a job as an exotic dancer. However, after a particularly upsetting rape scene, she is left on the floor with forty pounds. This is a poignant, pivotal moment, as she didn’t consider the sex a paid service, but instead an act where she was in control, wanted and desired. In this way, the play highlights the juxtaposing ways in which women view themselves, as strong and sexually empowered beings – and how female sexuality is perceived in a patriarchal society.
After her traumatic experience, Georgie becomes psychologically unstable and temporarily moves into Leah’s room. It is at this point, however, that the characters’ relationship begins to develop. Leah discovers that she can confide in Georgie, who seems happy to offer advice, finally finding a sense of purpose in the promise of emotional bonding. Here, then, after some upsetting and uncomfortable scenes, the play offers a sort of happy ending. Ultimately, FREAK is an engaging play that manages to show uncomfortable and embarrassing situations in hilarious, poignant, cringing and thought-provoking ways.
Photo credits to Ewan Munro.