EdFringe 2018 Review: Free and Proud

Free and Proud
Rating: ★★★

Venue: George Square Studios 

Free and Proud takes a heartfelt glimpse into the challenges and rewards of contemporary gay relationships at this year's Edinburgh Fringe. Written by Charles Gershman and directed by Peter Darney, Free and Proud is a well-crafted piece of theatre with a real emotional sincerity that comes to life thanks to the performances of its two impressive leads.

Fresh to the US, Hakeem (Faaiz Mbelizi) a Nigerian academic meets Jeremy (Michael Gilbert), an IT worker and aspiring poet - both quickly falling into a relationship. Free and Proud inserts tragedy into its narrative early on and subsequently recounts the ups and downs of Jeremy and Hakeem's relationship that lead up to this point.

With both actors sat on chairs at opposing sides of the stage and lighting highlighting one performer at a time, this two-hander cleverly allows us to hear both sides of every story - once in either Hakeem or Jeremy's own words and then subsequently their partner's. Whilst their interactions within the play may be few, we still get the strong sense that both men are a couple thanks to this dynamic and both recounting shared experiences. The two-hander style used here is also beneficial as exploring the growing dichotomy between the couple. We see doubts and issues develop from one character's perspective and how these same issues are perceived by the other partner.

Free and Proud is an immersive snapshot into this relationship - from their initial meeting (Hakeem's insecurity in this new land, the charm and security provided by Jeremy) to the gradual twists and turns of its decline. Driven apart by career choices, sex drives, and family backgrounds - Gershman's play gives us a succinct representation of many of the paths that relationships often take with a realistic authenticity. These moments gain an increased poignancy as we view them already knowing about the tragedy that will ultimate conclude the narrative.

Praise should go to the skilled performances of Mbelizi and Gilbert. Both actors are faced with the challenge of crafting a convincing relationship, whilst interacting with the other only a small handful of times. Mbelizi captures Hakeem's ambition and does an impressive job at exploring how his career path often relegated Jeremy emotionally and sexually. Gilbert channels this alienation into his turn as Jeremy, who ultimately is not satisfied by what his relationship with Hakeem has become, seeking vice and pleasure elsewhere.
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