Our editor, Joshua Cialis, interviews the director of Freak, Ellie Ward, about The Herd’s upcoming run of Anna Jordan’s play in York and London.
Heart breaking as it is hilarious, Freak is the story of two women, Leah and Georgie. The action unfolds across their two bedrooms, which face opposite each other, with the audience positioned either side of the beds. This is a truly immersive piece, with Georgie and Leah telling their stories straight to the audience. Leah tells us of her plans to lose her virginity; Georgie of her dreams about King Kong, and her ex-boyfriend Jamie. This is feminist theatre, but Freak isn’t a show about how to be a good feminist. It is about two women deeply entrenched in the media-obsessed, misogynistic world of the 21st century. It is about sexuality, rape culture and female friendship. But mostly, it is about giving Leah and Georgie the space to tell their stories.
‘Freak is a bold examination of what it is to be a woman in Britain today’. Does Freak suggest what being a “woman” means or what it could mean?
Freak suggests that being a woman in Britain today is hard. Jordan’s characters; Leah, a young teenage girl, and Georgie, a 30 year old woman, represent just two lived experiences of girlhood and womanhood. What being a “woman” means is a hot topic at the minute, with the #metoo movement, and debates surrounding sexual harassment and sexual conduct between the sexes. However, Freak doesn’t focus on the abuse women suffer at the hands of men, but the abuse women suffer at the hands of themselves: that is, “internalized misogyny”. From Veeting for new boyfriends, to validation via male appraisal, both Leah and Georgie are symptoms of the patriarchal culture we live in. Freak pulls at the fabric of womanhood, unravelling it’s hypocrisies and limitations in hilarious, and sometimes painful, detail.
So what is a good feminist? Or is there such a thing?
I believe the only viable way to be a “good” feminist is to accept you are probably a bad one. Humans are not perfect, after growing up within patriarchal systems of power, rape culture, and a media obsessed with the perfect body, image, life, it’s gonna be pretty hard not to be a hyprocrite from time to time. And that’s fine. What’s dangerous is to put women on the “good” feminist pedestal, which the media like to do. It just means when they slip up we can knock them off and berate them, undermining all the hard and genuine work they have done. Bad feminism underpins Freak. Neither Leah or Georgie would identify as feminist, in fact, they represent what feminism seeks to blunten: obsession with the male gaze, self-hate, perfectionism in body and physical attractiveness. The perfect feminist is a myth that needs busting.
Do you think the definition of feminism is changing? The fight is no longer about the vote it’s about values?
Definitely. There is a huge difference between social change, and political change. Yeah, we’ve had the vote for 100 years, but social value systems that have been engrained in culture for 100s of thousands of years are going to take more time than that to overturn. Also, feminism, especially in the media spotlight, can be very white washed. We’ve got to take time to understand feminism on an intersectional level. I understand that whilst I am up against prejudice as a woman, I also carry with me a lot of white privilege. So yeah, its all about values. And not sitting on our arses thinking it’s all sorted – check your privilege!
I find the different readings of a play very interesting. In your direction of Jordan’s play did you stick fast to the script or was there a little wiggling?
For us, all our characterization was pulled straight from Jordan’s script. It was a bit of a bible, and one of the most beautiful pieces of contemporary play writing I have read. Of course, while the facts we pulled from the script have stuck fast, there is wriggle room in how we communicated the associated emotions. Rather than focus on blocking, we focused on mapping out the reasons the characters were saying what they were saying, what they wanted the audience to think. That’s the joy of Freak – the show feels different every night, as Marie and Caitlin [the two actors in this performance] try out new ways to communicate the intentions they understand so clearly!
‘Herd is a feminist theatre company…to promote discussion, share ideas and skills and provide opportunities for women and non-binary people’. Why do you think it is important to use the arts (specifically theatre) as a springboard for the discussions of feminism?
After our first run of Freak so many people came up to me, or messaged me, telling me the ways in which they related to Leah and Georgie, and how it made them think about their attitudes to sex, body image, and sexuality. Within Freak, Leah and Georgie do not realize fully how the things they are saying and doing are problematic. This is the audience’s job. Freak is a rare diamond as Leah and Georgie are telling their stories directly to the audience, forcing them to think about not just the fictional situations of the play, but similar events in their own lives. What would I do in that situation? What did I do in that situation? Theatre generates discussion without specifically asking for it: the dialogue which results is complex, personal, truthful. And it is necessary. By glancing at someone else’s life, you are able to hold a mirror to your own, and affect change.
Do you have a favourite line from the play?
This is tough! Possibly, “I smoke fags out of the window, try on every piece of clothing I own and see how many times I can cum during Homes Under the Hammer!”
Finally why should I come and see Freak?
Freak is hilarious, hearting breaking and vivid. You will literally be sat within Leah and Georgie’s bedrooms, listening to their stories. Freak kinda feels like you are being told fresh secrets at a sleepover, or chin wagging with your best friend, whose had kind of a rough week. More importantly, you will see part of your life in Georgie or Leah. Whether they remind you of yourself, your Mum, your daughter or sister. Freak has something for everyone, and is not one to miss.