Anna Jordan’s two-hander FREAK is an unflinching look at female sexuality in a 21st century context. Georgie (Katie Bottoms) is a 30-year-old woman, single after some years, and not doing well. Leah (Hetty Elliott) is 15 and preparing to lose her virginity – though whether she is actually ‘prepared’ or not remains to be seen. She isn’t sure that her vagina is attractive, or indeed that she is attractive at all. She isn’t a peer group leader at school and she isn’t sure why her fellow pupil, the handsome Luke, is so interested in her.
An unflinching look at female sexuality
Georgie, on the other hand, has been propelled into a dark depression by the ending of her long-term relationship and so both women, problematically single, find themselves obsessing about sex, men and how best to proceed in a situation that isn’t straightforward.
The neat conceit of the set is that the double bed in the middle of the stage represents two beds and two separate bedrooms, depending on who is speaking. Effectively dovetailing monologues take us into the lives, bedrooms and intimate thoughts of the respective women. Tension, humour and almost unbearable honesty highlight the grey area between desire and consent. At what point does willingness become unwilling? At what point does male attention stop being simple attention and become something darker? To what extent do these women collude with the men they encounter, and what do they learn from their experiences?
Anna Jordan’s script is subtle enough to allow a fully three-dimensional exploration of a subject that often invites formulaic and simplistic judgement. But this is avoided here in favour of a deep humanity and compassion. Georgie’s difficult past is alluded to, but not explained. We don’t need to know what darkness lies behind her decision to become a stripper, only that there is one. The connection between her and the beguilingly innocent Leah is one that is both psychologically and philosophically significant, and their ultimate meeting is both neat and rewarding.
There are many ways to grow up. From adolescence into adulthood; from naïveté into the painfully won glimmerings of wisdom. With fine performances from both actors and a sense that sometimes in life the winning move is not to play, this is a full-on and yet ultimately hopeful piece of visceral theatre. Recommended.