A revolutionary and innovative new play on the link between mental health and systematic racism, Freeman, plays at the Pleasance Theatre
A review by Susy Brett
Freeman interweaves narratives past and present to observe how structural racism, with particular regard to mental health, continues to exist across America and the UK. It starts with William Freeman, a Black American man in the 18th century who became the first person to plead insanity as his defence for a crime with which he was accused. Leading with Freeman’s example, Freeman compares and contrasts five other different yet strikingly familiar stories – ranging across generation, period and geography. For the six stories it tells, it tells the stories of many thousands of others.
This is a beautiful piece of theatre, showcasing everything Fringe theatre is capable of. It combines more traditional storytelling with physical theatre, including dance segments, gospel singing and shadow puppetry. Freeman opens with a moving choreographed piece, which evokes feelings of struggle, power and resistance. Later pieces expressed in dance are both extremely real and almost disturbing to watch.
The politics of Freeman are powerful and extremely necessary. It tells stories of racial violence that happen every day – and have happened every day – across the US and UK for centuries. One powerful moment shows the names of real victims of racial violence flashed on screen as hashtags during a retelling of the story of Sandra Bland, a Black Lives Matter activist jailed for arguing with a police officer who later hanged herself. Another simply reads out excruciatingly painful real life statistics. This well-researched and honest play strikes a very real and human chord, providing education and ample food for thought. It does everything good theatre does – and it absolutely deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.
The many talents of Freeman’s six-strong cast must not go unmentioned. Each delivers meaty material with passion and power, evoking powerful emotions in their audience. This is a real ensemble performance, with each actor shining with the power of the narrative. It is abundantly clear each actor cares a lot for what they are making, with the evidence is there in their performances.
Freeman is as beautiful as it is revolutionary. It is a stunning piece of political theatre, educating and enlightening its audience. This is the sort of theatre all production companies should aspire to create – and deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.