I've written five plays which I also directed at Edinburgh and in London between 2009-12. I've done a few more around London, in venues like the Arcola, the Kings Head Islington, Theatre Delicatessen, the Hoxton Hall, my front room, and my father's garage.
The photo's from my favourite year in Edinburgh, when we did Crypted and Excess.
Top row: me, Florence Keith-Roach, Armani Zardoe, Harriet Green, Lauren Cooney, Ollie Marsden. Apparently grinding Armani: George Syborn.
What a gang.
Below are some nice reviews from over the (mostly fruitless) years.
“I AM lying,” read the words on the chalkboard behind the fidgety academic. This, he tells us, represents the Liar’s Paradox. For how are we to know if the writer is an honest man telling the truth or a liar doing what comes naturally? The rest of this wonderful, emotive play from writer and director Freddy Syborn asks which of these groups the academic belongs to, and whether the difference between truth and lie can be reduced to a simple binary concept. For our lecturer is Alan Turing, Enigma-cracking genius, persecuted homosexual and, until recently, an unsung British hero for both of these reasons.
The play deals astutely with themes of sexuality and gender in the midst of the seemingly unconquerable torrent of mid-20th century expectations and prejudices that weighed upon and threatened to defeat Turing’s true nature. Switching in time from his schooldays and a passionate, tragic, non-physical romance with another boy who feels similarly conflicted to the devastating contradiction of his latter marriage, Turing changes from bright, cheerful boy filled with questions about the world to shifty loner who haunts the workrooms of Bletchley Park.
Harriet Green, in a bold but utterly fitting piece of cross-gender casting, gives a captivating performance as Turing, her eyes searching the margins of the room as if constantly, sadly searching for all that he has lost. The play is written with razor-sharp insight, its overarching meditation on truth and honesty in the face of the laws of man and nature executed with resonant, touching coherence by the talented ensemble cast. Those seeking an unheralded gem in one of the Fringe’s smaller venues this year will find little more satisfying. The Scotsman ****
Also at Broadway Baby, Fest and The Reviews Hub.
IN A FLAT in Dublin, a well-spoken but oddly manic young woman called Isla rails at vengeful length about a well-known budget airline and the indignities they’ve just heaped upon her. Her brother Joe listens with an amused smile and then tells her he’s in the process of becoming a woman. Where their parents are accepting of Joe’s choice, she just can’t reconcile this revelation. “They don’t even have abortions in Ireland,” she protests.
While not quite as singularly stunning as Crypted, the other of two plays writer and director Freddy Syborn’s Negative Capability company has brought to Edinburgh this year, Excess is still a commanding and unexpected piece from a truly gifted young theatremaker. It takes on a tricky subject and invests it with not just living, breathing humanity, but also an innate sense of the inexplicable contradictions people represent.
While Isla seeks to define what Joe is and should be for herself, she’s the one who enjoys brutal sado-masochistic sex with a man in a rubber gimp mask (performed by puppets, thankfully). Yet she cries when her plummy friends chat about how wonderful their babies are. At every turn Syborn, refuses his characters easy pigeonholing.
The play is dark and intelligently amusing, and filled with excellent performances: from Ollie Smith as down-to-earth Joe, “the only MC at Eton”; from Florence Keith-Roach as Isla, filled with just enough hyperactive energy to suggest bipolarity; and from Syborn himself as Joe’s drag queen partner Samantha Carnage, another character whose actions defy appearance or expectation. The Scotsman ****
After years and countless hours of seeing Fringe shows, a level of expectation starts to build up. Snap judgements begin to form in the mind after mere moments of a show beginning. Anatomy Act is such a show. The opening scene, where a flustered and energetic Freddy Syborn, playing himself or possibly his own super-ego realised incarnate, bursts onto the stage in a manically driven monologue had me momentarily worried. As he began unzipping the trio of body bags on the stage floor and loosed the remainder of the cast into the action, there was an incredible sense that this was going to be some farcical silliness. However within minutes it was clear how wrong that assumption could be, as Anatomy Act quickly showed it self to be one of the most exciting and exhilarating pieces of new theatre at the Fringe.
With the cast onstage, and vertical, the form of the piece begins to make itself clear. The players flit seamlessly between form and structure, one moment a chorus, the next a miasma of cacophonous voices. In the midst of which Syborn, has occasional asides to the audience, alluding to past memories, and even denying that the events spoken of ever occurred. There’s a definite sense of the inner workings of the subconscious vying with the waking mind here that harks back to Sarah Kane’s more cerebral work.
Moving constantly from the real to the metaphysical, it’s difficult to say whether or not the tragic events and central themes of the play are drawn from Syborn’s life or his imagination. Nevertheless, the way the dialogue and action catches the resonant feeling of synapses firing across the brain, without ever falling too far into becoming pretentious, Anatomy Act is a play which will divide audiences, remain massively subjective, endlessly fascinating and impossible to ignore.
The British Theatre Guide *****
Freddy Syborn and his Brain Chorus are looking for answers, but all they get is more questions. This is self-analysis for the Google generation: exploring the workings of the mind and the universe, ‘Anatomy Acts’ features searing emotional narratives flavoured with the comedy of self-deprecation and rude slapstick, combining a scholarly fascination with words and a schoolboy obsession with tits. Although it can sometimes feel like a lecture, the unwavering virtuosity of the cast prevents the play from losing focus, even as too many factual tangents threaten to spoil the broth. This ensemble of unique voices delivers Syborn’s magnificent, heart-felt and at times poetic confessions with great force, leaving you reeling from such uninhibited honesty.
Three Weeks ****