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Freedam review – didn’t stink as much as I thought

Review by Will Challis

On the morning of Friday 29th July, I arrived at the Alec Clegg studio at stage@leeds to watch Luke Haywood’s “cheesy new comedy” Freedam, an intergalactic supervillain farce aimed at children about the use of sixty tonnes of Edam cheese for evil. I was apprehensive at first, to be frank, had convinced myself that the LS6 Theatre production would be an ordeal childish wordplay and anticlimactic punchlines. On leaving the venue after a final curtain call to a cast rendition of ABBA’s “Waterloo”, I instead felt thoroughly satisfied, and not because it was finally over. Freedam was an excellently put together production and everyone involved should be immensely proud.

All photography credits to Abby Swain

Freedam tells the story of aspiring supervillain Ice Cold (Hannah Whiteway) as she begrudgingly entrusts her incompetent assistants Popsicles (Eva Lafontan), Jax (Ejiro Imiruaye) and Ace (Spike Woodley) to aid her in her plan for world domination. A plot such as this one requires the use of a mind control machine powered by Edam cheese and karaoke. However, the disappearance of the vital power source leads Jax and Ace on a wild goose chase (and, as a subplot, a cow chase…) to retrieve it, and the return of Ice Cold’s archnemesis Channing Merchandise (Lafontan) complicates things further. The plot is highly original and, unlike Emmental, has no holes. All elements of the story are neatly tied together and nothing is left unexplained, and characters are employed economically throughout. Remove one character and the play simply wouldn’t work. Haywood clearly has a solid grasp on the genre and is crucially aware of its codes and conventions.

I was especially enthralled by the performances of both Whiteway and Lafontan. Ice Cold commands the stage in a chic white lab coat, matching trousers and killer patent leather heeled boots, and her quick-witted, sardonic retorts (but sometimes treating herself to babyish meltdown) always keep the audience on its toes. Lafontan’s portrayal of Ice Cold’s counterpart Channing Merchandise is an equally iconic performance and the two actresses have excellent chemistry. In fact, given their fabulous costumes and campy personalities, I would nominate Ice Cold and Channing Merchandise as an unlikely pair of gay icons. Lafontan’s other appearance as Ice Cold’s servile assistant Popsicles (pronounced like you would Sophocles or Pericles, for example) is wonderfully wacky, and Lafontan has a distinct skill for characterisation. The cartoonish tonality to the voices of Popsicles and Channing Merchandise are testament to Lafontan’s abilities and would make her a skilled voiceover artist.

Where Ice Cold and Channing Merchandise adopt a very wry and precise humour, oafish double act Jax and Ace specialise in very physical, slapstick comedy, getting up to humorous hijinks as they clown around the space ramping up the energy. It was a shame that energy was sometimes lost due to issues with vocal projection and awkward line delivery, and at times, I wasn’t convinced that characters’ attempts to elicit audience participation or engagement were genuine. Moreover, there is something about the air of post-ironic self-deprecation in which puns are sometimes told (not only in Freedam) which has always bothered me. And while I appreciate that puns are enjoyed by almost everyone except me, and while I believe that most people would find humour in that intentionally sheepish style of delivery, I think for a play directed at children it misses the mark. Children rely on high energy to keep them engaged. If I were to see it again, I would like to see more conviction from the company in their attempts to get the audience joining in with the fun (and there is a lot of it!) and in their belief that the jokes will land, else the audience may be left unsure when to laugh.

I’m being very nitpicky there, and it probably says more about my inability to experience joy than anything else, but there were moments that I thought were hysterical. I was particularly amused by the entire subplot involving Jax and his attachment to a stolen dairy cow. And Jax’ consistent observation that every new location looks the same as the previous due to the non-existent set design is a hilarious metatheatrical technique. Despite my slightly low expectations, I was extremely impressed by Freedam and I am confident that it will be a huge hit for family audiences at the Fringe.

You can watch Freedam at Perth Theatre at theSpace on North Bridge on 17th-20th and 22nd-27th August.

Tickets available here

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