Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Freak

Anna Jordan
MAP Productions
53Two, Manchester
31 August 2017 to 09 September 2017

Anna Jordan’s Freak tackles themes of female self-image, sexuality and exploitation in a manner that is both visceral and tender.

Georgie (Alexandra Maxwell) is approaching thirty and sees herself as a sexual predator exploiting the men who watch her strip in a night club. But the guilt and self-loathing that motivate Georgie blind her to the fact that predator can easily turn into prey.  Teenager Leah (Stacey Harcourt) breathlessly embraces all aspects of sexuality, defining her body image by social media and her level of self-worth by her ability to attract boys. Leah is very much in love with the idea of sex and finds the reality different from her imaginings.

Considering that Freak contains highly disturbing descriptions of sex, it ought to be unwatchable. Yet Anna Jordan’s pin-sharp script is compulsive; she appreciates that no matter how graphic the descriptions may be, the most upsetting moment is when Leah seriously contemplates taking part in a threesome simply because her self-esteem is so low that she feels flattered by the attention.

Director Simon Naylor creates a calculating atmosphere in which sex is almost a Pagan act of worship and women adapt themselves to suit the demands of their partners. Naylor is clear as to how the characters have been socialised into shaping their bodies and behaviour in ways that are now considered to be the norm. The stage is littered with computer monitors and juts out into the audience like a catwalk at a beauty pageant.

The performances are fearless.   Alexandra Maxwell is an intimidating figure striding around the stage and virtually threatening the audience with the power of her sexuality. Yet, as with the script, it is the quieter moments that have the greatest impact when Maxwell draws out the pain hidden under Georgie’s self-disgust. Stacey Harcourt is just as disturbing but in a different way. Harcourt gives Leah a rather gauche innocence so the character seems ripe for exploitation. Leah might talk dirty but you are not entirely sure that she knows what she is talking about. It makes the audience feel protective and there is no denying the awkwardness of keeping eye contact with Harcourt as she describes Leah’s intimate grooming regime.

In a play full of surprises, the most effective is the concluding section where a moment of tenderness arises that promises some hope that the characters are learning to trust themselves rather than conform to images imposed by other people.

MAP Productions have delivered a strong version of a very powerful play with a pair of stunning performances.

Reviewer: David Cunningham