Freak (Edinburgh Fringe)

Anna Jordan’s two-hander makes some salient points but is let down by the delivery

© Kevin Murphy
Down the ages, fictional women have fallen with depressing frequency into one of two categories: whore or virgin. In an attempt to upturn such misogynistic simplifications, Anna Jordan‘s new play offers up and then complicates the two archetypes. Georgie, just entering her 30s, has taken a job as a stripper, while teenager Leah worries about her pubic hair and prepares to pop her cherry. They both talk to us, often with startling frankness, about sex.

For all its defiant intentions, it smacks of a piece that thinks it is being subversive while unwittingly reinforcing the very things it rails against. Like Phoebe Waller-Bridge‘s Fleabag or Vicky JonesThe One, it insistently pushes at what women can publicly say about sex and sexuality, but so often those statements conform more than they think they do to existing patriarchal structures. Women are allowed to talk about fucking, as long as they continue to replicate male desires.

"The words themselves, when not being undermined by their delivery, are punchy and often perceptive"

The problem is less with Jordan’s script than with her lazy, unimaginative and occasionally embarrassing staging. Throughout the show, performers Lia Burge and April Hughes – often scantily clad – perch, lie and writhe on a double bed while telling their respective stories. In between scenes, they dance provocatively in costumes including lingerie and a schoolgirl outfit. Just throw in a pillow fight and it’s standard issue male fantasy.

The words themselves, when not being undermined by their delivery, are punchy and often perceptive. Jordan has a knack with sharp one-liners and her two characters are vividly, complexly sketched. This is a tight bit of writing, asking tough questions about sexual empowerment and the desire to be desired, but it will smash few barriers or stereotypes while presented like this.

Freak runs at Assembly George Square until 25 August