Review: Freaking Free Mark DeFriest, Bread and Roses Theatre

Written and staged in just 5 weeks, Freaking Free Mark DeFriest is a daring affair at the Bread and Roses Theatre but one that needs a little more development time

“Sometimes doing the right thing is wrong”

Chances are you won’t have heard of the name Mark DeFriest. A man in the US who, in 1980, took the tools promised to him by his late father pre-probate and ended up with a custodial sentence for his pains from which he has never broken free, despite developing a reputation as a notorious jailbreaker. Freaking Free Mark DeFriest offers up a highly theatrical version of his lifestory, exploring his mental health issues exacerbated bu his incarceration.

Structurally, the play takes the form of short vignettes, shifting around in time and varying significantly in form which if nothing, certainly keeps the audience on its toes. From quiz shows asking for our participation to enact justice to prison correspondence that riffs on Eminem and Dido’s ‘Stan’, there’s certainly no lacking of ideas from Eyles.

What isn’t always abundantly obvious is a clarity of intent. The play frequently nudges towards Kafka-esque notions of absurdism as it travels the various circles of hell of the American justice system. But its satirical bite isn’t quite sharp enough to fully follow through and this all comes at the expense of delving into DeFriest as a character – he remains a frustratingly elusive figure here.

Sharing the role with Jay O’Connell, Louie Threlfall throws himself wholeheartedly into all this theatrical business but has little opportunity to mine the tragedy of the ongoing situation, to make us feel for DeFriest. And Warren Graham and Georgina Squires adroitly cover any number of supporting roles though few are allowed to break through into the wider consciousness.

Amazingly, Eyles only first heard about DeFriest’s story five weeks ago and to have written a play and staged it in a global pandemic in that space of time is freaking heroic. At the same time, a little more time developing it could help it to attain those absurdist tragicomic heights for which it reaches.   

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Aaron-Lee Eyles
Freaking Free Mark DeFriest is booking at the Bread and Roses Theatre until 16th September

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