Billed as a “one-woman show about sex, madness, and medicine” Freud the Musical certainly lives up to its tagline. Set in the tunnels of the Vaults beneath Waterloo this is an intensely atmospheric and absurd production focusing on a middle-aged Sigmund Freud as he fights debt and a cocaine addiction. Written and performed by Natasha Sutton Williams (and under the direction of Dominic McHale) the audience is taken on a rollercoaster journey through Freud’s patients and the discovery of his own genius in the lead up to the lecture in 1915 that would change everything and propel Freud into the spotlight.
Sutton Williams skillfully takes on all of the roles alongside Freud including his cat Oedipus-sy. On stage pianist Micah Rose-Trespeuch does a tremendous job of remaining unfazed by the things occurring on stage and these are the moments of real strength. Of the thirteen numbers within the production when Sutton Williams performs alongside the piano accompaniment there is a definite cabaret feel to the performance borrowing drag show conventions that move beyond simply cross-dressing. At points there is also an element of soundscaping through live recording and looping which while interesting at first it a little overused and becomes more tedious towards the end serving no particular purpose. Similar to drag and cabaret this is not a performance led by any sense of plot or narrative and as such allows a wide platform for the exploration (almost a psychoanalysis) of Freud’s split personality and his interaction with those closest to him.
The exploration of gender through one of the most prolific figures of sexuality adds a fascinating extra lens as a female reinforces the absurdity of some of the claims made of the female sex. The way that Sutton Williams grasps on to her cigar and frequently uses it as a phallic instrument allows for some more graphic demonstrations of Freud’s emerging concepts and adds a real dynamism to the characterisation. However the potential is here to go much deeper in subverting these entrenched ideas through the frames of drag and cabaret, particularly in ultilising an audience, and some of its biggest comments appear almost as side-notes.
This is an extremely well-researched production despite its eccentricities. Little Hans and Dora were documented patients of his and Sutton Williams demonstrates a critical understanding of Freud’s theories as she seeks to deconstruct them. It is also difficult not to see the reference to Joey in Friends (‘The One with the Butt’, 1994) as he takes to the stage as Dr. Freud and sings: “All you want is a dinkle/What you envy’s a schwang/A thing through which you can tinkle/To play with or simply let hang”. The songs here follow in much the same vain and utilise puppets such as the boy who cannot stop playing with his you-know-what to explore Dr. Freud’s patients. There is a childishness to the lyrics which strikes at the childish absurdity of some of Freud’s theories causing an audience to question why they are held in such regard. This is a giddy feminist twist that tears down this ‘father of sexuality’ from his plinth and entertainingly bares all.