Freshwoman is supposedly the story of a young, female Oxford undergraduate, Mathilde du Belle, looking for learning and love among the ‘deviant’ dreaming spires. I say supposedly, because it’s really about the nutters she meets/snogs/is related to. You can tell that it’s some of the Oxford Imps who are behind this performance, even if you’ve never seen an Imp show. I’m surprised it even has writers’ names on it, but apparently most of the wacky in the show can be attributed to Tom Skelton and Dylan Townley, who also direct. By the time the cast start singing a song which I deduce is entitled ‘Woah, drugs’ I think I might be on their mystery pills. In fact, the drugs sequence acts as a miniature of the whole show – fast paced, fiercely energetic singing gives way to a bizarre, whirling come down, before returning to full strength again.
The exception to this rule is Tom Skelton. He dominates the stage whenever he’s on it. When he appears in drag he makes Terry Jones look subtle, and had me torn between laughter and fear. There’s a strange disjunction between his high energy performance and the straighter performances that is unsettling at times, and I’m never sure if it’s for comedic effect.
While watching this piece I felt I was on the cutting edge of comedy, in danger of falling off into something else that couldn’t be boredom, but wasn’t quite laughing either – more like the dizzying confusion of that come-down moment, where nothing quite makes sense. All the rules are broken in this play. The story doesn’t hold the scenes together at all, but then I’m not sure it’s supposed to, feeling more like another joke on/with the audience. If you can bring yourself to roll with the mind-blowing levels of weird in this production, you won’t find a funnier way to spend an hour.
**** 4 stars