Freud the Musical at Reading Fringe Festival interview

Claire Slobodian

Fringe festivals are often home to outlandish, hilarious, charming theatre shows about the unlikeliest of subjects. Of all those though, one of the most bonkers has to be Freud the Musical, which comes to Reading Fringe Festival on Friday 27 July. It’s a one-woman show about sex, madness and medicine, which the team claim features ‘the finest song ever written about sticking rats up your anus’. Yes. Exactly.

Before Freud the Musical, comes to Reading, I spoke to the show’s writer, and solo performer Natasha Sutton-Williams about Sigmund Freud’s cocaine abuse, her gleeful annihilation of the father of modern psychology, dick jokes and an imaginary half cat half woman called Oedipussy.

Tell me a bit about your background in theatre…

I am playwright, composer, actor and singer. My plays have been produced at multiple London venues and are now starting to tour the UK, including Reading. My love of theatre and performance started from a young age. There is a photograph of me when I was four years old dressed up in a Brazilian costume; I’m decked out in plastic jewellery (think Carmen Miranda) with a plastic microphone in my hand. Even before I was born my Dad said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if she was a jazz singer?’ And it turned out I could sing jazz! Perhaps we don’t have to be so careful what we wish for.

What drew you to Sigmund Freud?

When I was seventeen years old I was very interested in sex (as most seventeen year olds are). I wanted to investigate the psychology behind our sexual interactions and deviations as a society. The obvious go to in this field of knowledge was Sigmund Freud so I started researching him. I later found out he advocated cocaine use to all his patients in the early years of his career, he frequently used it himself and even gave it to his father as a numbing agent when he performed eye surgery on him!

I thought wouldn’t it be great if this arrogant megalomaniac drug addict was actually kind of an idiot? That in fact he had an imaginary friend who was half cat half woman called Oedipussy who gave him all of his good ideas? That’s when the musical was born.

Freud the Musical
Photographer: Rowan Spray

So what can we expect from Freud The Musical?

The show is a gleeful annihilation of the father of modern psychology in a flurry of cross-dressing and dick jokes. You can expect to witness the desperately addicted cocaine fiend Sigmund Freud, Oedipussy the imaginary half cat half woman, Dora the defiant lesbian, the anal Rat Man and six year old Little Hans, the original Freudian mother***ker.

You say the show is ‘based on the true-life account of Sigmund Freud’s cocaine abuse’. Just how truthful is it?

It’s 100% true! Freud genuinely thought that cocaine was a miracle elixir that would heal all ailments. Early in his career Freud wrote one of the first ever scientific studies on cocaine entitled Über Coca; his paper was known as ‘a song of praise to this magical substance’. There is a modern book called Freud on Coke by David Cohen where you can find out all the intricacies of Freud’s personal cocaine use and the prescription of the white stuff to his patients.

It’s a one woman show and you play six characters, and it’s a musical of course, so how do those characters sing along with each other, if they’re all you?

Good question! Every character has at least one song in the show. Sometimes they sing to each other in the form of an argument, and I also layer my voice using a loop station so that the characters can sing in harmony with themselves. In one song there is a chorus of rats who sing a mind bending chorus that might make your skin crawl. You’ll have to come along to find out why.

Freud the Musical. Photographer Alicia Clarke

Who do you think will enjoy Freud the Musical?

People who have genitals. They seem to come out stimulated after the show.

This is not a conventional musical so it should appeal to people who don’t necessarily get off on the glad rags and jazz hands of Musical Theatre. The show is lewd, rude and is a take down of Sigmund Freud and his more out-dated theories. If you like gags about sex, drugs and mental illness then you’re in for a good night.

Your company, Working Birthday, aim to make ‘entertaining theatre about difficult subjects’. How do you think musicals help us connect with awkward truths or stories?

Across the world, whatever background or culture people come from, we all connect through music. It is a universal language. It’s important to discuss less appetising subjects through music so that we can investigate the feelings or situations we don’t normally discuss. Through musicals we can dig into subjects we find embarrassing, shameful, disturbing, scintillating or even arousing. Music heightens everything, including emotions, so it’s a great platform for epic stories.

I’m bored of songs and musicals that simply talk about love. Through music you can talk about anything: space travel, the arms race, what it’s like to work in a mortuary, the difficulties of having a bum so big it’s hard to find a seat wide enough on an airplane, it’s all up for grabs.

Credit: Jack Hope

Is this your first time at Reading Fringe? What else are you looking forward to seeing at the Festival?

Yes, Freud is particularly looking forward to psychoanalysing the Reading inhabitants as he hears they are incredibly complex individuals with twisted, dark neuroses. He loves a difficult patient.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing One Woman Alien which is a love letter to the cult movie Alien and investigates just how far we have moved forward in Feminism since the ground-breaking movie was made in 1979.

Is a cigar ever just a cigar?

Yes! It can also be used as a substitute for a mother’s nipple, which is exactly what Freud used them for. His love of sucking on a fat one eventually killed him. Freud had sixteen operations on his jaw to try to eradicate his jaw cancer. In the end he had a bespoke metal jaw plate made which his daughter Anna Freud dutifully cleaned for him everyday. Who says they didn’t have fun before television?

Freud the Musical is on Friday 27 July at Penta Hotel, tickets are £10, book now.

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