Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Interview: Anna Jordan

Freak is currently playing its final few performances at the Theatre503 where it transferred following a hugely successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Freak is written and directed by Anna Jordan who speaks to West End Frame about its incredible journey…

Are you happy with the response to Freak? You must be so proud!
The response has been fantastic. It’s a challenging play with a lot of dark themes – it focuses on female sexual desire and behaviour and I understand that it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but generally the response has been overwhelmingly positive. As well as the great reviews, we’ve had many tweets from both men and women saying how important they thought the show was and how much it had made them think. I don’t think as a playwright you can ask for more than that – your play making somebody think. I often eavesdrop on the post show conversation in the bar after the show and there’s always plenty of lively discussion going on around it. I try not to get involved though, I just like to drink wine and listen! I am immensely proud of everyone involved – it’s been quite a journey.

The show was incredibly well received in Edinburgh, did you make any tweaks and changes for the London run? How has it continued to develop?
Well, the design of the whole show has been beautifully overhauled and developed by Petra Hjortsberg and the lighting design enhanced and perfected by Rachel Bottomley. We’ve done some re-blocking as we have more space to play with here and the rake is slightly higher in 503, meaning we can use lower levels more. We have also looked at the stylised sections of the show – where the girls dance in their bedrooms in front of their mirrors to some of the explicit pop music that inspired Freak. It was that part of the show which caused the most controversy. That was great because it made me question why it was there in the first place and draw the conclusion that yes, it was very important. But we have honed and developed the movement to make sure it’s exploring precisely what we want it to. 

How do you think people will leave the theatre feeling?
Ooh blimey. Do you know Freak’s been part of my life for so long that it’s difficult to imagine how I would feel seeing it for the first time. It is honest and open and quite frank. It doesn’t pull any punches – it's two characters talking very openly about sex from a female perspective. There are some very dark moments. They should expect rhythmic changes and pace. People talk about feeling uncomfortable sometimes during the play; exposed. Some brave people have admitted that they felt aroused at times, and then a bit repelled by what they saw, which must be a strange combination. But I think there are lots of laughs and lightness, and there is plenty of hope in Freak too, and I hope that’s what people take away. 

How did you find the writing process? Was it ever draining? You’re dealing with such heavy themes and issues!
Writing is always draining but that’s a good thing. You pour yourself into it. In terms of the subject matter being dark I genuinely think that’s the way my brain works, so dark is just the way I go. I never make a decision to go dark, it just happens. Also, there’s a lot of dark s**t going on in the world. It needs to be written about and I’m happy to do it.

In its first incarnation (as part of a trilogy of plays at Theatre503 in January 2013) Freak was like a stream of consciousness. The idea was in place, but it was a chaotic mess, raw and rough around the edges. Paul Robinson - Theatre503’s AD - and I worked on the script in great detail this time round. He helped me to clarify the ideas I wanted to explore and make sure the play made sense. It was a fantastic experience. Working with Polly Ingham on the image and blurbology helped to find Freak’s identity. It really is a fabulous team that has made this production a success.

How does it feel to sit back and watch a play you’ve written and directed? You must have surreal moments?
Well I don’t sit if I can help it! I stand at the back. In Edinburgh I sat in the box with Dan, our Stage Manager. I don’t know, sitting with the audience you suddenly feel incredibly vulnerable if you’ve written and directed the play yourself. I’m very much about pace as a director, so if I feel the show is going a little slowly I develop involuntary physical movements and weird ticks – attractive right? I think I probably mouth the words too. I must look like some sort of hideous dance mum – egging her little darlings on from the audience [laughs]!

Sometimes watching a play you’ve written and directed yourself is a sublime experience. Sometimes it’s horrendous. That often has to do with your own frame of mind, rather than what’s happening on stage. But Lia and April pour their hearts and souls into every single show – I’m always bowled over by that. 

You have won many awards for your work. Does that bring extra pressure when thinking about ‘what’s next’?
Well, after the Bruntwood everything went a bit bonkers and it’s lovely because people just seem to be more interested in your work because of an accolade like that. But for me I guess it’s business as usual; I always worry what people are going to say and think, I always want it to be the best it can be, and I always will do everything I can to protect the quality of the work, that’s before or after awards. It’s an obsessive streak I have which I think elevates my work but messes with other areas in my life, like sleep or friends. I don’t see enough of my friends. I hate that. 

You divide your time between writing plays, directing plays, teaching acting at all levels and ages, and being the Artistic Director of Without a Paddle Theatre. How do you find time to breathe?! Your life must be manic?
[laughs] It is a bit. So I’ve had to take my foot off the gas a little when it comes to Without a Paddle but I still run a weekly class for professional actors which I love. September has been bonkers, running between Freak at Theatre503 and Chicken Shop, another play I have written which is on at Park Theatre. I’m teaching a bit at Italia Conti this term and I still teach drama at Stagecoach on a Saturday as I love it! But once both shows are finished at the end of September my focus is a project that I have been commissioned to write by the BBC Drama Department as I am on their writer’s course at the moment. It’s very exciting!

What has been your personal highlight of your journey with Freak? Any stand out moments or memories (so far)?
Ooh yeah there was one. It was our second preview at Edinburgh. Our first preview had about twenty people, and we were expecting the same amount again. But the people started coming and just didn’t stop. Fifty, sixty, seventy...We had nearly a full house for that show, with lots of Assembly Staff – who were brilliant at telling people about Freak. Word had got around, from our first show, from our London Previews and from Twitter, and people were interested. It was an incredible show that afternoon, loads of laughs and tears, and we had The Stage in, who gave us four stars the next day. It was joyous. 

Interview by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Freak runs at the Theatre503 until Saturday 27th September 2014
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2-3: Kevin Murphy

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