Writer: Emma Zadow
Director: Anoushka Bonwick
Seven Years. That’s how long it’s been since Alice returned home. But her sister Lo’s decline in mental health draws Alice back to Norfolk, but not all are happy with the arrival. Lo, and her family friend Charlie, struggles to re-adjust to Alice’s return – both out of hurt, one the familial, one romantic. Emma Zadow’s Fridge infuses a sense of magical figurative realism with a traditional means of storytelling and spoken word.
Fridge is a digital piece that tackles the fundamental difficulties of a broken family, attempting to rekindle the connections and forge a way forward for Alice and Lo. Struggling, Lo has battled with her mental health for years to the frustrations of herself and sister Alice.
Told over a digital Zoom format the production retains a sense of liveness by utilising the occasional camera alteration and framing device, using outside shots of bus stops and surrounding areas to aid in building the Norfolk backdrop. Audio too plays a significant role, principally with Lo’s confinement and retreat into the titular Fridge, blurring the line of validity.
Tying the crushing realness of suicide and self-harm with the complexities of fantasy aspect is a notable narrative structure in literature, but a perilous one. And while Zadow’s writing grasps the symbolic nature of the fantastical elements, of shutting oneself away, Anoushka Bonwick’s direction leans heavily into the over-stretched performance. Gabrielle De Saumarez has the most challenging aspect of the production, and where able, demonstrates the guttural punches of being asked to ‘act’ or ‘look’ normal, living with the comments on how depression ‘looks’ to others. But by the final moments of the show, where the hope is all but extinguished, her pain is visceral – but the journey has taken a toll.
Bonwick layers the emotional drama heavily, pushing the performances to a stage dynamic, rather than the screen. The over-responses and expressions work well for a stage, but in recording the piece for the digital Living Record Festival, the cracks in performance and control emerge. Edward Watchman becomes mildly detached from the same realm of his co-stars, not through performance but Bonwick’s direction. Family friend Edward is as much a part of the family as the sisters, and the romantic subtexts with Alice are a touching angle, as is the history he shares with Lo.
Where arguments between the sisters emerge, there’s a worry of sounding petulant or overly dramatic. Izzy Daws performance as sister Alice is the production’s ultimate saving grace however. Nuanced, relatable and emotionally driven by both experience and prejudgement, Daws natural manner with the performance aids Fridge magnificently .
Frustrating, Fridge’s pacing is stretched thin – overwrought and possessing countless scenes which require a severe snip or a cut altogether. Yet by the conclusion, as Daws and Saumarez hold the audience’s investment, Fridge transcends into a marvellous piece on a plethora of multi-dimensional angles surrounding self-harm, depression, and the impacts of suicide. There’s a personal connection here, evident in the writing, but where the blurred line of magical reality meets the crushing brutality of the subject matter – it takes a tender, and clever line to achieve the similar ilk of Lev Grossman or Katherine Paterson.
The Living Record Festival runs 17 January – 22 February 2022. Available to stream here