Following a slew of sell-out shows and five star reviews at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Strictly Arts return to the Belgrade Theatre this September with their award-winning show Freeman.

Described by the Guardian as “a revelation”, Freeman takes inspiration from the true story of William Freeman – the first man in America to plead insanity as a legal defence – to explore the often unspoken link between systemic racism and mental health.

Created in collaboration with writer Camilla Whitehill as part of the Belgrade Theatre’s Springboard talent development initiative, 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 amongst 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 went on to enjoy sell-out performances at The Pleasance Courtyard in Edinburgh, receiving a Special Commendation from the SIT UP Awards and The Mervs “Spirit of the Fringe” Award, as well as being shortlisted for an Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award.

Throughout time and across waters, the show weaves together the story of William Freeman – a black man driven to violence in the US – together with those of David Oluwale, Sarah Reed, Sandra Bland, Daniel M’naghten and Michael Bailey, highlighting the continued 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 prisons across the UK – the highest number 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.”


Freeman is written by Camilla Whitehill and Strictly Arts and directed by Danièle Sanderson, with lighting by Joe Hornsby and sound by John Roddy. Casting includes Keiren Amos, Pip Barclay, Corey Campbell, Kimisha Lewis, Aimee Powell and Marcel White.