FREAK

Tue 3rd – Sat 7th March 2015

reviews

Eli Keren

at 02:37 on 4th Mar 2015

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Freak is a play that employs a tried and tested method of storytelling – two characters are presented as seemingly opposite ends of a spectrum, only to have the difficulties they encounter demonstrate their stark similarities. The script went as far as to have the two characters deliver the exact same lines of dialogue to make their parallels abundantly clear. While it might not be groundbreaking in this respect, Freak does what it does very well, and since it is the emotional intensity that the script seeks to capitalise on rather than the events themselves, the predictable structure of the play does nothing to detract from its impact.

The play took a little while to find its feet. The opening monologues of the play highlighted the issue of working with such a small cast. While Beth Dubow was entirely believable as the young and inexperienced Leah, Eleanor Mack was almost believable as candid stripper Georgie. While Mack delivered a monologue with dramatic skill that would have rendered her a strong link in a larger cast, Dubow, didn’t monologue at me, she talked to me.

Once Freak got into its stride, however, all these flaws were forgotten. The alternation between monologues became more rapid until the play read almost like a duologue, and the result was intense, captivating, and consistently confident for the rest of the play. Eleanor Mack proved that she could own the stage, bringing to light the full spectrum of her character’s emotions and carrying her arc superbly. While Dubow’s character shows a less dramatic progression, she maintained the high standard she had set early right up until the final blackout.

Directors Conrad Jefferies and Hannah Parlett struck a chord with the script’s subtler lines. Rather than emphasising the parts that resonated as uncomfortable or problematic, these were glossed over, or presented as perfectly ordinary, and as a result lingered in the back of my mind like splinters, sticking with me long after the dialogue had moved on. I wanted to confront the characters and point out how many things were wrong with what they were saying but, confined to my position as a spectator, I was instead left feeling uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, this is entirely complimentary. The play unshakeably instilled in me all the emotions that it set out to – much to the credit of the actors and the directors.

The light and sound design felt unnecessary at times. Glaring red lights and brief bursts of pop songs formed dividers between sections of the play while subtler shifts in lighting tried to emphasise slight changes in tone as the monologues progressed, but these seemed like padding to me. The play didn’t need them. The actors did a fine job of carrying the script and, if anything, the technical side of the production was only distracting.

Freak deals with an issue often overlooked – the subtle line between consent and assent. Through very different circumstances, these two women both allow something to happen that they might not actively want to happen, and we are spared no part of the gory emotional fallout. The ultimate sign of the play’s success, however, was the fact that, towards the end, I wanted nothing more than to take these two women and make them believe that everything was going to be alright. The actors were forgotten, and the emotional response that the characters drew from me was visceral and, at times, overwhelming.

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