Saturday, 23 February 2013

Freakoid - review

Written by: Chris O'Shaughnessy (@ChrisSE20)

Ovalhouse, London

Imagine a quivering, barefoot, genteel Joyce Grenfell narrating her way apologetically through a bizarre Kafkaesque nightmare somewhere in a futurist world dominated by electronics, and you will get the flavour of Emma Adams’s one-woman show Freakoid.

It is billed as a dystopian comedy and foul-mouthed queer allegory — ‘a future queer love affair’ — but it plays out as nothing of the sort. It sits more recognisably in the tradition of time-worn British comedy of bizarre juxtaposition and homely conspiratorial gossip with a nod perhaps, at the end, as it shifts into another gear, to the disturbing confessional monologues of Tim Crouch. The word lesbian is mentioned only once by the main character and in a very non P.C sort of way. There is nothing particularly queer, foul-mouthed or even dystopian about any of it.

We enter the auditorium as Emma .004, a trembling grey-haired middle-aged woman is typing furiously away at a battered old typewriter, surrounded by wrecked and broken hard drives and defunct computers. Like the old typewriter she is a survivor, a ‘bio’ in a ‘second fenced’ futurist world of android and bio-androids: the ‘freakoid’ of the title.

In a series of unconnected scenes, interspersed by baleful video reports which get ever more bizarrely apocalyptic, she appears to be interrogated by an unseen and unheard electronic presence. She confesses her human story - ‘festering’ is the new futurist name for original autonomous thinking - as she remembers her friends daring to speak out against the new oppressive regime and telling us what became of them. She remembers her grandmother who fell in love with a hoover and spawned many baby hoovers until she and all the hoovers committed suicide in a swing park. The invasion of the electronic devices is recreated on the interspersing videos (photographer and video editor Maria Spadfora) but these tend to slow up the action instead of developing it - although I did rather like the skateboarding electric iron.

At times it seems as if two separate plays are being performed alternately. As if to recognise this, Adams gives up and steps out of character halfway through and appeals to the audience to take part and save the show. Letters drop down on wires and land in the laps of unsuspecting audience members. She awaits a phone call and asks for the letters to be read out. Sequences like this are diverting and funny if ultimately baffling and add nothing to our understanding as to what is going on. The piece eventually gets lost up its own portentous and predictable story-telling, and a few songs later, and a lurch into the Tim Crouch-style horror confessional (though laced with humour) of incestuous goings on among the now traumatised bios, we are none the wiser.

Freakoid is slickly directed by Sarah Applewhite and undeniably entertaining. But I found it bizarre rather than queer, nonsensical rather than surreal, comical rather than satirical, and myopian rather than dystopian. There are some nice songs recalling a rosy-hued traditional England which could have been written by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds and introduce moments of kitsch pathos.

Emma Adams is a fine comic actress, composer, musician and singer in the great British tradition of Beryl Reid, Grenfell herself, and perhaps, more pertinently, Hermione Gingold. Like them, she has a warm and winning stage presence and, despite the disappointing predictability of this material, I look forward to her next show.

This production runs until 9 March 2013. 
@Ovalhouse @Freakoid1

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