Freedom (Fringe)

Our critics rating: 
Monday, 30 January, 2012
Review by: 
Peter Brown

This play, written and directed by Rick Limentani, has the germ of a good idea, suggesting promise and intrigue. But the pace is so slow that one could almost write one's own play faster than watch this one being performed. And though there are moments of inventive humour, these are insufficient to compensate for either the lack of momentum, or character and plot development.

The idea starts in Tajikistan where Benham, a poppy farmer, has a chilling problem. The buyers of his agricultural output (or 'keepers' as he calls them) are ruthlessly violent men who will stop at nothing to get their own way. Benham tells us that when another farmer had a poor crop, the 'keepers' took his children. Faced with this unbearable and terrifying pressure, Benham tells a whapping lie to the 'keepers'. To make that lie stick, Benham needs a European woman, and has a plan to send his son, Fariad off to find one in England. Once there, Fariad finds a job in a fast food bar, befriends another of the young employees, Jennifer, and convinces her to spend a studying holiday in Tajikistan to resolve the now-pressing issue that his father's lie may be found out, with potentially devastating consequences.

The opening scene between Rian Perle as Benham, and Indranyl Singharay as Fariad certainly suggests a very different culture because of the formality about the relationship between the father and his gun-toting son. But, when he gets to England, Fariad makes an unconvincing, almost instantaneous transition to fast-food bar employee. And believability is further stretched – well past the point of tolerance - when he becomes involved in playing music in a band, and remains in England after Jennifer has left.

A well-designed and detailed set by Roberto and Pablo Vidiella provides excellent settings. Poppy lamps sit almost insidiously between the two locations giving the infamous plant the crucial link between the two cultures. The music, by Ivan Capillas, embellishes the atmosphere but is used inappropriately – for example, at the start of the second half we have to listen to a rather lengthy musical interlude before the action starts, which frustratingly delays progress again.

The resolution is unexpected and brings the second half to a rather abrupt conclusion. And the big message which Jennifer imparts to Benham about freedom, did not seem to fit with much that had gone before, making the ending more enigmatic than anything else and leaving Benham's situation unsatisfyingly unresolved.

A number of people in the audience did not return for the second half, and I can understand why. The snail-like pace and the sometimes inaudible dialogue, make this a difficult play for an audience to sit through. But that does not mean that 'Freedom' is a complete write-off - what it desperately needs is a substantial re-write, and a directorial style which injects the piece with far more emotional conflict, energy and urgency. After all, Benham's problem is potentially life-threatening and that needs to be reflected in the delivery and dialogue. It would also benefit from more characters – perhaps in the guise of one or more 'keepers', and customers in the chicken bar - and different interaction. At present, much of the dialogue between father and son is conducted over mobile phones, which simply serves to slow things down even further.

I really wanted to like this play because the basic concept introduces us to a real and compelling dilemma faced by people we know little about. But though there are fleetingly enjoyable moments, especially in the first half, its message is confusing and it never delivers the sense of urgency or impending terror that the initial problem provoked.


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