Freeman (4 stars)

This article is from 2018


A coherent plea for understanding and against oppression

With a nomination for the SIT-UP awards and support from the Charlie Harthill fund, Strictly Arts' passionate appeal for a more compassionate appreciation of the consequences of mental ill-health in the criminal justice system. Weaving an historical narrative that reaches back into the systemic racism of the USA in the nineteenth century, and exposes contemporary institutional viciousness, Freeman boldly addresses the intersection of racism, the law, mental health disorders, judicial bullying and, perhaps most painfully, suicide.

The company's bracing physical theatre style - expressed in movement interludes or the cunning use of bodies to conjure scenes and props - lends the urgency of the message a dramatical ferocity: through the interlocking descriptions of lives destroyed by injustice, a comprehensive vision is developed that convicts prejudice. The contemporary concerns of BlackLivesMatter are addressed within the context of North American history: seen as part of a continuity of oppression and a flashpoint for resistance, Strictly Arts present both its immediate importance and the depth of the racism that demanded its response.

The structure is episodic, and each historical character is given due respect but there is time for reflections on the tensions in making theatre out of lived experiences, its futility and the tension between activists and those who think they are allies but can't let go of privilege. In a Fringe festival that still lacks a broad representation of British communities, Freeman operates as a powerful theatrical plea for compassion and a tacit critique of the exclusion of performers from the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.

Pleasance Courtyard, until 27 Aug, 5pm £11 (£10).


  • 4 stars

Strictly Arts presents a dramatic tale inspired by the story of William Freeman, a man in 19th century New York who becomes the first person to raise 'insanity' as a defence in an American trial.