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Round two of Freeman

MENTAL ILLNESS: Freeman spans centuries to explore the link of racism and mental ill health

THE AWARD-WINNING show Freeman returns to the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry this week.

Written by Camilla Whitehill with Strictly Arts and directed by Danièle Sanderson, Freeman takes inspiration from the true story of William Freeman – the first man in America to plead insanity as a legal defence.

Created to explore the often unspoken link between systemic racism and mental health problems, this urgent and deeply moving story combines incisive drama with high-energy physical theatre, gospel singing, shadow puppetry and more, drawing on extensive research into deaths and mental illness among prisoners of colour.

As both the first West Midlands company and the first black-led group to be awarded The Pleasance’s Charlie Hartill Special Reserve Fund, Strictly Arts has recently enjoyed sell-out performances at The Pleasance Courtyard in Edinburgh.

The show received a Special Commendation from the SITUP Awards and The Mervs “Spirit of the Fringe” Award, as well as being shortlisted for an Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award.

Crossing time and waters, the show weaves together the story of William Freeman – a black man driven to violence in the US – with those of David Oluwale, Sarah Reed, Sandra Bland, Daniel M’Naghten and Michael Bailey, highlighting the need for movements like Black Lives Matter in the 21st century.

During 2016, when Strictly Arts began making Freeman, 120 self-inflicted deaths were recorded in UK prisons – the highest since records began.

Strictly Arts’ artistic director Corey Campbell said: “As an individual who has been a victim of racial profiling, wrongfully accused by the justice system, with friends and family who have suffered from poor mental health, and a member of the black community myself, the statistics and information I’ve researched are both relevant and frightening.

“To think that William Freeman’s story from as far back as the 1800s can still be an example to us today shows that we are still in dangerous waters.”

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