Freak, Theatre503 - Review

Shirley Valentine: That's right, Milandra, I'm going to Greece for the sex! Sex for breakfast! Sex for dinner! Sex for tea! And sex for supper! ...It's called the "F" plan!

Spring Awakening (the musical): There's a moment you know/You're f***ed/Not an inch more room/To self-destruct/No more moves, oh, yeah/The dead end zone/Man, you just can't call/Your soul your own

Freak Like Me – Sugarbabes: Let me lay it on the line/I got a little freakiness inside/And you know that a man has gotta feel with it

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Rightly or wrongly, whether it’s anybody else’s business or not, society places a huge amount of importance on a person’s desirability and their sexual activity (or lack of). Having too much of it or too little, it can be an endless source of anxiety and from the onset of adolescence, it never lets go. The play’s critique of this in two women at different stages of their lives throws open all sorts of question about what is considered ‘normal’ or ‘reckless’ behaviour. But as it is a play by Anna Jordan, it is never just about sex. Rather it is the intersection, the nexus where multiple factors come into play and day-to-day emotions manifest themselves.

Freak is very candid. Through the oscillating monologues of Leah and Georgie, we reach a level of disclosure that would have served Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller well. As the actors divulge ever-more intimate details about their emotions, bodies and sex lives, it is we the audience who over time shed our collective inhibitions and defences, to a point where we are as emotionally naked as the characters on stage. Sharing the same bed on stage, the actors take it turn to tell their respective tales.

In one corner we have 15-year-old Leah (April Hughes). Like most teenagers her age, her hormones are raging, she’s interested in the opposite sex and takes a keen interest in how her body looks. For Leah, this extends to daily waxing, in preparation for the day she can take her relationship with her boyfriend to a physical level.

We also have Georgie (Lia Burge) a 30-year-old woman who following a spell of heartache and drifting, decides the perfect way to satisfy her libido and not wallow in her dark thoughts is to work at a strip club. From her point of view, this seems like a win-win situation and works fine for her until the need to fulfil her fantasies takes her down a dangerous path indeed.

The yearning to be desired is universal, though what people do about it varies widely. We find early on that Leah and Georgie have very different temperaments. You could say they exhibit the classic Apollonian/Dionysian paradigm, with Leah constantly thinking and evaluating her actions while Georgie is a woman governed by emotion and instinct – a true acolyte of the Bacchae. If Georgie’s life had a theme song it would be Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control. Speaking of which, the actors do punctuate the play at various points with recitations of song lyrics, which only highlight (without meaning to sound puritanical) how sexuality pervades today’s music. But of course, it was ever thus...

Through Leah we see how popular culture and media play such a major role in the development of sexual identity, from learning ‘how to be sexy’ from Rihanna videos to innumerable sexual practices from online porn. With all of this information on hand, there’s a certain irony that Leah has little knowledge of what a mature natural woman looks like – with body hair and everything!

In tandem with Leah’s quest ‘to be a woman’, Georgie’s Freudian path to ecstasy and oblivion leads her to spending time ‘after hours’ with a stag party. As experienced and worldly-wise as she is, she is unprepared for the unrelenting animalistic abandonment that the men succumb to and ultimately, how numbing and 'uninvolved' it is for her. That is until things go too far...          

Both Georgie and Leah in their quieter moments realise that the ‘mechanics’ of sex aren’t as rewarding as how being wanted and loved feels. Following her ‘first time’, all Leah wants is a hug from her father, while for Georgie it is the gentle stroking of her wrist from Jamie.

Leah’s interest and pursuit of ‘first time’ knowledge is fairly run-of-the-mill, but Georgie’s behaviour (while not uncommon) has underlying reasons behind it. As I mentioned earlier, sex is rarely a thing in itself. Our emotions, hang-ups and experiences from other facets of our lives contribute to our sexual identity. So what are the reasons behind Georgie's actions? Jordan’s script doesn’t explicitly say anything, but there are a few pointers to the truth. Firstly, Georgina’s relationship with the female members of her family have always been frayed to say the least. One suspect ‘not being ladylike’ or behaving ‘like a lad’ to be a primary cause. That being the case, the people closest to her have been former boyfriend Jamie  and her father who encouraged her love of football and tomboyish behaviour, and didn’t try to change her. “I’m his boy,” she remarks. Her aversion to obvious 'feminine' labels even extends to adopting an androgynous contraction of her name.

While Georgie exhibited classic emotional masculine traits, Jamie’s personality complemented her and brought a tenderness to the relationship which she didn’t know she craved until he’d gone. Being a natural caring person, a giver – it felt totally natural to Jamie for them to have a child together, someone who was both theirs to care for. Unfortunately this is anathema to Georgie’s way of thinking and Jamie moved on, though he never stopped caring for her. With the death of her closest relative and departure of the only emotional anchor in her life, it was only natural that she should freefall and seek the emotional oblivion that would obfuscate her pain.

And who should become a feature in Georgie’s life but Leah...

Daughter of the sister Georgie is estranged from, Leah gives her aunt an outlet to be a more involved, nurturing human being. Not as a ‘mother’ perhaps, but as a ‘big-sister’ to her. Just like the significance of sex as opposed to its mechanics, Leah’s presence as the sole meaningful female connection to the family for Georgie, marks a turning point for her. A new opportunity. Not in a ‘Road to Damascus’ way, but in the words of Georgie early in the play: “It’s life. Communicating with you straight down the f***ing line.”

I’ve not said too much about the actors themselves which I will now redress. Hughes totally inhabits the role of Leah, unearthing much of the humour about growing up, as well as the fresh, stark observations about life that is taken for granted at an older age. Burge totally owns her role as Georgie. Emanating oodles of attitude, one senses beneath her character’s tough exterior lies a vulnerable young woman who is tired of life’s sorrows. Both actors take Jordan’s already dynamic script to the next level and display great chemistry together.

There are many fine writers working today that touch upon the dark realms of the human psyche, taboo subjects and the human condition, of which Jordan is at the vanguard. Freak proves that the insight and artistry exhibited in Chicken Shop recently is no fluke. Jordan has the uncommon knack of writing plays that have an incendiary relevance to today’s world, that conversely show the measured maturity of a craftsman. I have a feeling that Jordan is just hitting her stride and the best is yet to come...

(c) Michael Davis

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Author's review: 
5