Originally written for Exeunt

Ladies this is how you do

Snapchat. Facebook. Google ‘porn’. Wax. Laser. Do NOT shave. Oral. Anal. Threesome. Other women. Other men. Hairless, skinless, soulless, zipless fuck.

Whip yo hair, do yo smile

Like this. And this. And this. And this.

Practise. Practise. Practice.

Tell him this is nothing new

Freak could follow Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag in a sort of unintentional ‘women who want to have fun get hurt’ two-parter, and it feels as though, regardless of how stunningly well written both pieces are, sexual desire is ultimately punishing for women.

Where Waller-Bridge is almost uncomfortably matter of fact about disconnected sexual experiences, Anna Jordan’s Leah is excitedly discovering the possibilities of her body by whipping it into what she perceives to be its societally expected shape through dieting, Veet, and practicing her come face. It’s an odd rehearsal. Elsewhere, Georgie is frenetically seeking to feel useful, powerful, visible through sex.

The thing is; Freak is a really enjoyable watch – it’s funny, raw, honest, deadpan at exactly the right moments and, importantly, women are talking about women talking about sex. With both Fleabag and Freak written, directed and performed by a female creative team – here, then, there seems to be an opportunity to take control of the narratives that are so often controlling of women. Instead, even when treated as disdainful, distracting or simply boring; sex is still illicit. It’s a way of hiding or grieving or punishing; still somehow, fundamentally, wrong.

Anna Jordan holds up a mirror to the distillation of foreplay into a series of social media communications – Leah and her boyfriend exchange Snapchats of their bodies, and Leah watches a range of porn in order to ‘prepare’ herself – without really wanting to see what she is seeing, or do what she is doing. Perpetually confused about whether she is excited or afraid or would rather be curled up on the sofa with her family than studiously ensuring that she eradicates every follicle from her genital area, it’s hard to say whether Leah is supposed to be the quintessential modern teen or whether she is an amalgamation of the concerns we have for them. Her body is never her own – everyone needs to know that she is having sex, and she must constantly be physically prepared for it.

Georgie, somewhat mirroring Fleabag, rapidly becomes noticeably unwell; she languishes at home in the depths of depression, before clambering into a basque and a life as a stripper. Jordan studiously addresses the border between consent and exploitation as Georgie looks for fulfilment. Basically. Physically. Easily. Both conscious of the fact that her punters “like it when I look sort of afraid” and how divorced she is from herself when they look at her “I don’t mind being a thing” – Georgie says all of the right things to later get herself slut shamed out of existence, should she attempt to seek redress for what happens to her.

Instead, she blames herself. She considers it an act of self harm. Leah guilts herself about everything to do with sex; having, not having, not wanting to have. My heart cracks a little at “I think he’s going to tell me that he loves me. But he tells me that I’m beautiful. Which is pretty much the same thing, right?”, not because it’s a bit of a cliché but because the two are so utterly conflated – to be beautiful is to be desirable is to be loveable. She expects so little – not to be loved, not to be satisfied, just to be seen; the very definition of woman as object.

Matt Truman and Catherine Love found Jordan’s staging somewhat basic; my feeling is more that if the signalling is a little obvious, is this not merely a mirror of what Leah and Georgie are telling us? I would agree that the piece could benefit from going violently in one direction or another – either stripped down in the style of Fleabag or pushing at our comfort zone – as with getinthebackofthevan’s Number 1, The Plaza. It doesn’t do us well, as an audience, to be so comfortable with the staging of the invasion of the female body.

Jordan is a wonderful voice, and one I look forward to hearing much more of, but it feels as though we are still waiting, lingering, for a properly angry piece about female sexuality. Alice Birch’s Revolt. She said. Revolt again felt like the beginning of a conversation – I want to see it pitched to an enraged crescendo.

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