Let's talk about sex: Anna Jordan's FREAK

Image credit: Conrad Jefferies

Films, TV, books, plays – it’s something of a platitude to say that sex is everywhere today. Rarely, however, is sex discussed in a way which matches up to our own awkward, fumbling first experiences of it. Anna Jordan’s FREAK, this week’s Corpus lateshow, is a refreshing deconstruction of the myth that it’s all four-poster beds and scented candles. In the world of FREAK’s protagonists, it’s veeting, sending seedy Snapchats, and practising “cum face” that constitute their sexual experience.

Taking the form of a series of monologues which eventually converge on each other, FREAK tells the often painfully frank stories of Leah and Georgie as they come to terms with their sex lives. Georgie is 30 and in a downwards spiral, having just quit her job, broken up with her long-term boyfriend, and taken a job at a strip club. Leah is 15 and is nervously anticipating her first time, and spends her time practising different sexual positions on the double bed which the two share.

Co-director Hannah Parlett is similarly concerned about the rose-tint through which many forms of media seem to view sex. “When sex is talked about in film it’s done in a very romanticised way, whereas here it’s very real, and done in a very relatable way.” Conrad Jefferies, the other co-director, agrees. “When I first saw the play, the character of Leah particularly had an effect on me purely because she talks about sex in a way which is very natural. Like she talks about veeting and being too hairy, which is genuinely what people worry about when it comes to sex. If we go back with someone we think, ‘will they think I’m too hairy, will they think I’m bad in bed?’”

The meaning which Leah seems to attach to sex is more than made up for by the distinct lack of meaning which sex holds for Georgie. According to Hannah, “she has a lot of grief, a lot of despair, and that manifests itself in her sexual experiences. She needs male validation; it’s a way of dealing with her other problems. It’s her defence against the rest of the world”.

For two women who are so manifestly different, I wonder what point is being made by placing them together on stage. “It’s true they’re at completely different ends of the sexual spectrum”, Conrad tells me, “yet they’re both trying to please the male gaze, and they’re both trying to gain some sense of worth by pleasing men. That’s why Georgie goes back with a lot of men: she doesn’t really care about who she ends up sleeping with, because if they find her attractive then that’s all she needs.”

But in drawing an explicit parallel between the two characters, do we run the risk of undermining the crucial point that these two women are fundamentally having to cope with their situation alone? Conrad thinks not. “Both characters are alone in their own sense, but they’re telling you about very intimate details about their life, like Leah is talking about watching porn and taking pictures of her vagina, and so you almost end up feeling like a close friend. Because they’re going through similarly degrading experiences they don’t look as alone as you might think.”

The word “degrading” is particularly striking; is the picture painted of sex in the play one which is wholly exploitative, or is there a more optimistic message we can take from it? “I think especially with Georgie there’s something quite problematic about saying that she’s only degraded, because in a lot of ways she does feel empoweraed by it”, Hannah explains. “I mean, they probably do both feel that they are degraded by sex, but that’s because the kind of sex they’re having doesn’t account for their voice; it’s not the kind of sex they want. I think one of the main messages of the play is about the dangers of sex in which you don’t have an amount of agency.”

These last points will strike a chord with the many of us who have encountered similar difficulties in relationships. Conrad thinks “that’s what’s so great about the play, especially about Leah: she’s so relatable especially for someone our age. She is basically voicing the insecurities about sex that we – both men and women – have all had before and still have. There's a real universality to the play and that's why I think it's so important.”

So there you have it: if ever there was a perfect antidote to the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon, then FREAK is almost certainly it.

FREAK is on at the Corpus Playroom from Tuesday 03 March at 9pm. Get your tickets here

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