Freeman

Wed 1st – Mon 27th August 2018

reviews

Claire Louise Richardson

at 21:23 on 18th Aug 2018

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Strictly Arts Theatre’s production ‘Freeman’ is about racism, slavery and the black community, and the gripping effect on mental health that these issues instill. It began with a blackout and ended with a standing ovation, and between this we witnessed an hour of gripping, energetic theatre that never stood still. We saw actors dance and sing, and we saw some dynamic physical theatre, interspersed with light shows and puppetry effects. But most of all, we were dragged into the mindset of William Freeman and his mental struggles as a persecuted black man in seventeenth century America.

The flyer on the back of my seat when I sat down, which details the victimisation of racial profiling, and includes advice on coping with mental health, shows the detail and thought funnelled into every aspect. I don’t have black skin, but I do live in a world where many individuals are touched by the effects of mental health, commonly stemming from attitudes to race and appearance, so this is relatable, and reached out to every (full, I’d add) seat in the house. Many shows at the Fringe are full of light-hearted, ridiculous comedy, and others try to enforce their specific, alternate political musings. Instead, this production team have created a work of art that does not force or mock an opinion, but seeks to have a positive impact on its audience. Their standing ovation was not just to applaud the performance, but the ideology that inspires it.

The story is centred on Freeman; the first man who uses his insanity, as a result of mistreatment, to plead his defence. But there are also five other stories which include similar themes about race and its relationship with the human psyche. These multiple stories are cleverly interwoven by the lights, drama and action, but in some instances, this is too much. Perhaps this is a way to depict the madness and mentality at stake, but at times the production could strip this back, to avoid confusion and to more deeply portray the raw emotion. However, this is a brilliant show which puts the mental, rather than legal, implications of persecution into the spotlight through unique methods of projection.

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Megan Denny

at 09:34 on 19th Aug 2018

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Strictly Arts tackle the hard-hitting Venn diagram of prison, mental health issues and racism in ‘Freeman’ - an incredibly intense and important hour of theatre.

Six true stories are told, ranging from the nineteenth century to the present day, and are overlapped to highlight the question: what has really changed?

The play begins with William Freeman, a young black man beaten so badly when he is wrongfully arrested that he suffers an acute, undiagnosed brain injury; his mental trauma leading him to commit an atrocity. In 1846, Freeman becomes the first American to plead insanity as his defence, and thus his story is inextricably linked to that of the Scottish Daniel M’Naghten, who also pleads insanity at his murder trial. The fact that Freeman is ultimately sentenced to death, while M’Naghten is placed in an asylum, confronts white privilege; the simple fact is that Freeman is ‘the kind of person they don’t believe’.

A strong and versatile cast of six plays every role, generally seamlessly although with occasional lapses in accent that can cause slight confusion. However, these moments do not detract from the impact of each monologue, and the pain is so vividly portrayed that it is regularly distressing to witness.

Physical theatre and music is used with great sensitivity and emotion, particularly in the tragic climaxes of each story, though occasionally feels overworked - notably in the opening scene. There are also moments of humour to be found in this aspect of the play – particularly in the creation of a horse and rider out of four of the actors.

Original and highly effective use of lighting is also integral to the show and its message. Humour can be found in the shadow puppetry, but is then juxtaposed with a physical expression of the terror of paranoia caused by mental illness.

Elsewhere, as the fate of Sandra Bland is portrayed, increasingly rapid flashes of light and noise accompany a display of the names associated with the #BlackLivesMatter movement in a truly chilling reminder of the reality that black Americans ‘risk their lives every time they sit behind the wheel of a car’.

Leading by example, ‘Freeman’ fearlessly confronts a difficult and necessary conversation about the world we live in, using the past to explain why this dialogue is so important. In this way, it is inspirational.

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