Reviewed – 23rd March 2019
“despite good performances, a chance for a real exploration of the experience of sex for women in today’s society is missed”
This story of female sexuality and its fragility opens with our cast writhing on the floor in what appear to be graphic paroxysms of orgiastic delight. The lighting is red and the music seductive, and I feel for the woman on my row who looks like she may have come with her dad. For sure, this is a play about women and sex, and this opening feels pretty salacious – but never mistake what comes next for being sexy.
Freak, written by Anna Jordan and directed by Katherine Latimer and Charlotte Coleman is from the all female team at Bullet Theatre. There’s a cast with two speaking roles and an ensemble of four dancers. At times the choreography is strong, with sudden shared movements used to punctuate moments in the narrative and some impressive set-pieces with the cast moving as one. But too often the ensemble’s movements are repetitive, with the same grinding and writhing that opened the play going on so much it becomes at first wearing and then meaningless. This is a shame, as from what we see from Ellie Buckingham, Hannah McLeod, Eleanor Fulford and Elsa Rae Llewelyn, they have potential for much more.
In fact, the four dancers leave the stage around halfway as we segue into the next phase of this play of two parts. The first is dream-like, with a fluid, almost spoken-word feel. Then the two seemingly distinct plots with which we started enmesh, taking us into much more traditional dialogue, and this change of gear feels somewhat clunky.
It’s nonetheless touching to see our two protagonists come together, and Thomasin Lawson and Ruth Wormington give likeable, challenging performances. Given the nature of the material, where women’s sexuality is explored and then abused, the actors are making themselves vulnerable and are to be applauded for this; they bring a real sensitivity to what’s unfolding, especially Lawson with some downright distressing descriptions of assault (it’s worth noting that the play would benefit from warning audiences of this).
Music is used to good advantage, with some great song choices (although the same song looping while we wait for the performance to start becomes more than a little tiring). The sound levels can at times be a little off, and it’s sometimes hard to catch what’s being said over the thumping beats of louder tracks.
While the plots are powerful and the linking of the two characters’ lives neat, the point that’s being made proves hard to pin down. We know that women are too often used for sex, or pushed into it. We know that teenage lives are difficult in an age of social media, sexting and porn. And we know that rape exists.
Freak reminds us of all this, but what the takeaway is here, remains unclear. Not quite redemption, not quite hope, not quite empowerment. Ultimately, and despite good performances, a chance for a real exploration of the experience of sex for women in today’s society is missed.
Reviewed by Abi Davies
Photography courtesy Bullet Theatre
Previously reviewed at this venue: