The sightline for the opening scene in Freud The Musical was, from my vantage point, terrible. I couldn’t see a thing without having to swivel around to a most uncomfortable position. I very quickly treated this as a radio musical whenever the action started taking place behind me. The use of every inch of the reasonably limited space is strangely admirable, and thankfully there was enough in the book, music and lyrics to appreciate proceedings even when I was staring at an empty stage.
Quite a few of Sigmund Freud’s theories are frankly derisory, and if there is anything remotely ‘tragic’ to take away from this production, it is that there are still some people who still think all of his ideas have validity. A variety of characters are brought to life by Natasha Sutton-Williams, and it was not entirely clear (at least, not to me) who was whom. At one point a character yells: “I’m a lesbian!” and I could not for the life of me establish who had suddenly declared their sexual orientation, or why that sort of information even mattered.
The portrayal of Freud here as a cocaine-fuelled power-hungry psychopath is a feasible explanation for his zanier ideas, in a show that has a certain type of very silly humour that will not be appreciated by all. At the performance I attended the punchlines were like Marmite. To quote their famous advertising campaign, they were either loved or hated. Eventually, I grew to love them, after I gave up trying to follow any sort of narrative and enjoyed the attempted lightheartedness of it all.
The musical does nothing to dispel the less flattering portrayals of Freud – if anything, it exacerbates them for comic effect. A dodgy German-esque accent that retains ‘ja’ ‘und’ and ‘nein’ will have amused some and irritated others, or, in my case, merely served to remind me of BBC Television’s ‘Allo ‘Allo. The repetitive nature of some of the lyrics eventually became comical, though judging by the looks on some of the faces of fellow audience members I suspect it never lost its annoyance for them. It could have been interpreted, too, as a parody of the musical theatre genre, which does, admittedly, have a tendency to repeat lyrics.
The musical seems to suggest that it is Freud alone who has the problems and motivations described in his various books and academic papers. And what is remarkable about a show with such an absurd narrative is that, after the show, when I came to skim through the salient points about Freud’s life, career and published works, there wasn’t much that was embellished in the musical, let alone untrue. I was impressed. But I would say some familiarity with Freud’s theories is necessary to get the maximum benefit of the musical’s wit. There’s a lengthy explanation to his ideas given in the final scene, but it is given at such an (appropriately) breakneck pace it is unlikely to be absorbed in its entirety by someone encountering the world of Sigmund Freud for the first time.
There is a definite fringe factor feeling to this one-actor show, though some details with regards to Freud’s beliefs on traumatic experiences in childhood and their subsequent consequences firmly takes the show out of being suitable family viewing. The more difficult it was to follow (plot-wise), the more entertaining it became, and in that sense this production takes musical theatre to a pinnacle as a form of entertainment where anything is possible.
Seamless transitions between the musical numbers and spoken dialogue make for a smooth journey, with scene changes made all the more rapid by the relatively minimalist set. Phil Blandford, at the piano, played flawlessly and remained heroically and stoically po-faced as much of the audience chortled away.
Overall, this is an amusing and charmingly chaotic production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Freud The Musical is a one-woman show about sex, madness and medicine.
Based on the true-life account of Sigmund Freud’s cocaine addiction this comedy gleefully annihilates the father of modern psychology. The show upends our conventional ideas about mental illness and sexuality in a flurry of cross-dressing and dick jokes.
Natasha Sutton-Williams gives a fearless performance, playing the bombastic and desperately addicted Freud, his imaginary cat friend Oedipussy and his patients, from the raging lesbian Dora to Little Hans, the original Freudian motherfucker.
Music is provided by pianist Phil Blandford and a soundscape of looped voices is created live each night. The score features thirteen original tunes, including maybe the finest song ever written about sticking rats up your anus.
Written, Performed & Composed by Natasha Sutton-Williams
Piano Accompaniment by Phil Blandford
Directed by Dominic McHale
Produced & dramaturgical support by Bern Roche Farrelly
12+, drug and sexual references