Mid-way through her new solo show, Emma Adams appears on stage. I mean, she’s been on stage from the beginning but in character; smiley, shaky, shoeless middle-aged ‘Emma’. Then, half way through the show, Emma Adams, the writer, breaks out and explains that due to government cuts we (the audience) will have to do a bit more than just watch her.
Together, we ‘create dramatic tension and dialogue, just like in a real play!’ Having worked predominantly as a writer so far, Adams is a slightly nervous performer but by making this anxiety inherent to both the character and the situation, she plays it to her advantage and we are in safe hands. While she may feel most comfortable as herself not ‘acting’, she’s fantastic in character, particularly when belting out a glorious tune, accompanied by her portable Casio keyboard, or expressing herself emotively through dance. Both Emmas are likeable and engaging throughout: it is a real play, and a really good one.
Freakoid is set in an overpopulated world of full-bios, bio-melds, half-meats and bio-bots. Adams takes the outsiders’ struggle for acceptance ad absurdum, to a time when all electronic objects have feelings but are marginalised and unable to gain legitimate personhood. Machines and their sympathisers (‘bot-fuckers’) hide in underground roller discos, the ‘fenced’ republics rise and fall. Interbreeding has resulted in genetic confusion and in a highly policed state, suspicion is high. Desperation to prove her ‘full-bio’ status prompts Emma to retract colloquialisms in fear; “I’d forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on. Not that it’s… I mean there’s a few wrinkles there but it’s definitely all flesh, full-bio, full-bio…” We laugh but the audience is cast as the interrogative authority and it’s an unsettling moment when we realise our complicity in the persecution of this vulnerable lady: we are the reason she is not allowed to wear shoes, we are the reason she cannot leave this room.
A documentary film projected onto stacked boxes ‘A History of the World by 100 Sentient Objects’ takes us into the new reality with speed and, for all its jargon, clarity. The blender introduces us to speaking appliances, the Simon Says memory game appeals for sympathy amid its Tourette’s-like commands, and by the time we hear from the rebellious kettle, we are fully immersed. It’s left to the telephones, with the talking clock pips illustrating mass extinction, to touch our hearts. The right level of knowledge is assumed and the story develops to a dramatic conclusion. Adams’ talent lies in drawing us emotionally into the world. She and director Sarah Applewhite have built a pleasingly inventive set to serve the show, but despite our newfound attachment to machines, the computer debris didn’t quite translate as the torture chamber it could have, perhaps because the place looks just too much like an office.
Freakoid makes some important points about oppression and discrimination in general, and we see glimpses of horror, though these feel dangled from the ceiling rather than really explored. The piece maintains a joviality which ensures our enjoyment, but in doing so, risks limiting our ability to see the reflected horror of our own world in it.
The Counterculture 50 season at Ovalhouse – designed to ‘reconnect with the bravery and experimentation’ that have been a key part of the venue’s history – consists of eight new pieces, of which Freakoid is one. And while the five commissions for the theatre upstairs reflect social change and artistic diversity over the past five decades, the work in the main house seems deigned to looks forwards; and, if Freakoid is anything to go by, the future looks pretty cool.