Characters with compelling backstories, different attributes, and distinct voices are essential in almost all types of programming.
However, when it comes to soaps, they’re not just important; they’re the bread and butter, the fundamental core of the genre.
When we think of serial drama, we think of Elsie Tanner from Coronation Street or Ronnie Mitchell from EastEnders. Characters who have been shaped by their history and whose actions in the present are informed by it.
Characters with such strong personalities that you could predict how they would act in – or, as is frequently the case in soap operas, react to – any given situation.
Even the finest soap producers find it difficult to create fresh characters with such depth, which is partly why the genre relies so heavily on stalwarts from the past.
With Neighbours likely to end this year, there’s a natural desire to commemorate the show’s heritage, with prior stars such as Scott and Charlene Robinson set to return.
The Australian soap isn’t simply reliant on actors from its prime. Its storytelling is as good as it’s ever been right now, with a slew of fantastic stories coming out this year.
Furthermore, several of these tales have been led by fresher characters, with Freya Wozniak receiving special attention.
Freya first appeared on our screens back in January, with an intriguing mystery surrounding her as she lingered about the ruins of The Flamingo Bar.
Her aim, of course, was to find her missing lover, Gareth Bateman, and she was willing to go to any length to accomplish it.
It doesn’t sound particularly original in terms of introductions.
In fact, you could say it’s quite familiar. However, brilliant pacing, twists after twists (holding Roxy at knifepoint, anyone?) and a very engaging performance from actress Phoebe Roberts have ensured that it hasn’t been dull.
This story could’ve ended up like so many others before it, with Freya being nothing more than a master manipulator on a quest to obtain what she wants but lacking in depth – but that wasn’t the case.
Yes, it was a plot-driven story, but the effort that went into developing Freya as a character – rather than merely a plot device – guaranteed that it was also a character-driven story, and that she had more to offer the show than her introductory story.
We felt her remorse when she exploited Levi Canning to get what she wanted, we sympathised with her when she talked about Gareth’s absence, and we feared for her safety when she was kidnapped. Twice.
Nina Lucas and Kelly Neelan, for example, have proved that investing in newer characters and novel dynamics can pay off handsomely, with the likes of Nina Lucas and Kelly Neelan now being as bit as captivating as their older seniors after several years of strong content.
With Freya, Neighbours has managed to do something eerily similar. The difference is that the Channel 5 soap was able to do so in a matter of months.
Despite barely making her debut in January of this year, Freya feels as much a part of Ramsay Street as Chloe Brennan or Nicolette Stone.
Her unabashed badassery, mixed with her unwavering commitment to protecting those she now considers her family, has undoubtedly made her one of Erinsborough’s – and television’s – most intriguing newcomers.
There simply aren’t enough words to convey how fantastic Phoebe has been in this role. According to Executive Producer Jason Herbison, the Lie With Me star “nailed” the character right away after being cast, and that pretty much wraps it up.
Her nuanced performances, portraying Freya’s inner sentiments and cognitive processes – often with nothing more than a look or a glance – are just breathtaking.
Freya is a fantastic character in her own right, and one who most likely sprang off the page, but Phoebe’s work assured that, no matter what heinous deed Freya was committing, her actions and goals were always clear.
Freya’s character strength is also seen in how well she’s integrated into Ramsay Street, as she gets along with almost every character she’s been matched with.
Her friendships with David Tanaka and Chloe Brennan come to mind, as does her chemistry with Levi, which is off the charts and makes for one of the best romance stories on the programme in a long time.
We’ve been rooting for Freya to tell Levi how she feels – and vice versa – in the hopes that they’d reconcile. The two finally made things official after months of a wonderfully frustrating ‘Will they?/Won’t they?’ storyline, and the payoff was great, thanks to the excellent storylining and characterization working hand-in-hand.
We will grieve the loss of TV stalwarts like as Karl and Susan Kennedy, Paul Robinson, and Toadie when the show’s final episode airs in August.
Losing a character as complex as Freya in her narrative prime, on the other hand, will be one of the show’s most significant fatalities, in my opinion.
Neighbours airs on Channel 5 weekdays at 1:45 p.m. and 6 p.m.