Review by Giddy Pillai
Take a generous serving of childhood trauma, stir in a couple of decades of personal growth and add a sprinkle of therapy and a splash or two of red wine for good measure. Place it all in the creative bakehouse of writer, composer, performer, pianist and superstar in the making Andy Freeborn, and you get Everything is Sh*t - an absolute banger of a rock cabaret that manages to be raw, real, fun and feel-good all at once.
‘I wrote these songs for healing, and now I’m ready to share’, Freeborn says as they take the stage. What follows is a 60-minute excursion that swings between the broken, confused childhood of ‘Little Andrew’ and the much happier place that ‘Big Andy’ has found today. It’s a deeply personal show that paints characters from Freeborn’s real life in intricate detail: a mother who tries her best, a parade of disappointing father figures, a beloved brother who plays white knight to everyone, a chosen family at an intimate garden party, sipping wine matched to their clothes. Freeborn is a gifted writer who has built this show with humour, love and empathy, and these characters spring to life through lyrics that will make you laugh out loud in one breath and break your heart in the next.
The most personal stories can sometimes prove the most broadly relatable, if they’re told with care, and that’s the case here. There aren’t many obvious parallels between Freeborn’s journey to adulthood and my own, but images leap out nonetheless and act as mirrors to scattered memories that I know in my bones. Something that really resonated with me was how effectively the musical flow of the show reflected the non-linear chaos that often characterises a journey towards healing. Frenetic, high-energy numbers that conjure up dissociation and avoidance shift masterfully into stripped-back ballads with honest, to the point lyrics, perfectly capturing that feeling when a truth bomb explodes in your head before lodging itself permanently in your gut.
A number of things help Everything is Sh*t come together so well. First and foremost, it’s a thoughtfully crafted show. Freeborn is an accomplished musical director in addition to their many other talents, and the finesse with which they and director Alexander Andrews have arranged the show is tangible. Freeborn is also a powerhouse performer. Highly original, bursting with energy, virtuosic on the piano and with a range that spans from chaotically frenetic to heartrendingly intimate, they feel like the queer, zillenial Tim Minchin successor we never knew we needed. And then there’s the outstanding band. Austin Hall (drums), Renae Goodman (saxophone), Alex Paterson (violin), Chris ‘Bouey’ Bouhabib (bass) and Ren McMeiken and Jess Ramsey (stunning supporting vocals) work seamlessly with Freeborn and with each other. Their chemistry and connection is palpable, and it makes the show feel dynamic, alive and more than the sum of its (excellent) parts.
Freeborn has spoken of wanting this show to be a collective experience, where performers and audience can feel and heal together, and I think this is a goal that’s absolutely realised. If I could wish for more at all, it isn’t from the show, the songs or any of the performers, who overdelivered across the board – it’s simply that I felt that the connection between performers and audience would be even more strongly forged in a more intimate space, where I could hang off every exquisite lyric the way I so wanted to.
Happily, that’s something we may well see in the future. One of the truly special things about Everything is Sh*t is that it’s a living, breathing piece of work that has evolved alongside Freeborn’s real life journey towards healing. The show was born in 2022 as Brand New Dress (also the title of Freeborn’s debut single, out wherever you get your music and well worth a listen). Along the way it’s changed shape and grown new songs (the current title Everything is Sh*t comes from one of these songs, inspired by a conversation between Freeborn and their sister). In interviews, Freeborn has talked about wanting to continue to evolve the show in a way that reflects real life. To be a small part of such a personal journey as an audience member is a unique and precious thing. It’s an experience I absolutely treasure, and that I definitely hope to revisit someday.