Emma Charmant reviews Anna Jordan’s Freak, a play interested in female sexuality and societal pressures.
You enter Stokes Croft’s trendy PRSC to be immediately drawn into a pink, punchy,
relaxed atmosphere. The audience is mostly women, all effortlessly cool, contemplating
the intimate feminist artworks displayed by Millie Evans, Tallulah Pomeroy, Alice
Eatough, Mel Sanger, Betsy Herbert and Hannah Roberts. Their work illustrates the
simultaneous sense of imprisonment and liberty felt by modern women, as does Anna
Jordan’s play, Freak.
The play was first produced at Assembly George Square during the Edinburgh Festival
Fringe in August 2014, and received rhapsodic reviews. Four years later, Charlotte
Coleman and Katherine Latimer have directed a raw and powerful interpretation of
Freak, carried by talented actresses Ruth Wormington and Thomy Lawson.
Freak is about coming of age and coming to terms with age, about womanly power and
weakness, about sexuality and self-image. Two women separated by fifteen years expose
their feelings crudely and bluntly, in a sexually-charged atmosphere. The set shows
their shared bedroom, split between Leah’s side and Georgie’s, mirroring their
Leah is fifteen years old: she fantasises about losing her virginity, and her walls are
covered with pictures of supermodels and actresses. She is utterly repulsed by body hair,
talks about her more sexually experienced friends with jealousy, and practices her cum
face. She is heavily influenced by social constructs of femininity and tries to perform
what is expected of her – by her boyfriend, by her friends, by everyone.
Georgie is a 30-year-old suffering from depression, and she is just as influenced by
society as Leah is. She works in a lap-dancing club, where she lies about her age, and
feels all at once like a goddess, a thing, and a void. She believes she is in control of her
body and desires, and “doesn’t want respect”; but in a heartbreaking climax, she
recounts being assaulted by a group of men, which precipitates her break-down.
Thomy Lawson portrays a cool, careless Georgie, with a perfect “whatever face” and a
sensual husky voice. She layers the dramatic contrast between Georgie’s superficial
carelessness and the Georgie who comes to realise she is deeply unhappy. The scene
that touched me – and probably the rest of the audience – most was one in which Leah
comes to Georgie’s rescue, tenderly stopping her from hurting herself. Georgie then
takes Leah’s place in the bed, reflecting a childlikeness, and accepts care. Leah shows a
growing maturity as she confides in her aunt, and Ruth Wormington’s comic, witty
portrayal takes a twist when the teenager admits her supposed ‘weakness’ – her doubts
about herself and her sexuality. The sense of extreme isolation – brilliantly conveyed by
the actresses – completely vanishes and gives place to compassion and acceptance.
We come to realise the connection between the two women, and even after the collapse
of Georgie and Leah’s illusions, the cast keep up their characters’ humour and establish
a surprising, touching finale.
Bullet Theatre achieves a resourceful and intelligent adaptation of the play, and the cast
manages to shift from sometimes annoying or clichéd characterisations to a final reunion that celebrates the power of intergenerational sharing.
Charlotte Coleman and Katherine Latimer’s adaptation reinforces the feminist ambition
of Anna Jordan’s text with their daring and uninhibited staging. In today’s context of
#MeToo, this production has more relevance than ever and helps to sensitise the
audience to women’s ongoing struggles with social constructs, self-image and abuse.
Image courtesy of the Bullet Theatre.