Frozen – Greenwich Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: Bryony Lavery

Director: James Haddrell

What causes serial killers, and those who abduct and sexually abuse young children, to behave the way they do? If there were a physiological reason for their behaviour, would that make their crimes any more forgivable, or are there some actions that are truly beyond the pale?

Such questions lie at the heart of Bryony Lavery’s award-winning Frozen. The 1998 play revolves around three characters: the mother of an abducted girl, the man who took her, and the psychologist who is studying him. Each is frozen in place in their own way, metaphorically paralysed by circumstance.

For much of the first act, Lavery’s script plays out as a series of monologues, the characters never meeting. Kerrie Taylor’s Nancy potters around her spartan garden on one half of designer Alex Milledge’s revolving set, one minute grumbling about her two recalcitrant daughters and then breaking down when the youngest, 10-year-old Rhona, goes missing on the way to her grandmother’s.

On the other side of the revolve, James Bradshaw’s Ralph cuts a calm and lonely figure as a man who describes his abductions of young girls with alarming banality. The chasm of detachment between his interpretation of his actions, and the effect they have on others, is the most chilling piece of Lavery’s work.

The introduction of Indra Ové as Agnetha, a flustered American academic working as a visiting lecturer at a London university, is hampered somewhat by having her first two scenes placed within the audience. Greenwich Theatre’s open auditorium may give everyone a magnificent view of the stage, but the same cannot be said of a scene where a theatre bucket seat acts as a substitute for an aeroplane.

Once she arrives onstage, Ové’s monologues are heavy with dry, clinical language, so it is a palpable relief for both actor and audience when Agnetha finally meets Ralph for the first of the play’s dialogue scenes. We get to explore the coolly twisted inner workings of Ralph’s mind, as well as a chance to witness Agnetha’s theory that abuse in early life causes a form of brain damage that causes the detachment the killer needs to not be reviled by his own actions.

Taylor goes on her own journey, with Nancy initially becoming a campaigner for missing children and then, when she realises that her daughter is never coming home, switching to supporting bereaved parents and fighting for local residents to be alerted when convicted paedophiles move into the area. The character’s internal conflict, about whether she could ever forgive Ralph as her remaining daughter suggests, is clouded somewhat by Taylor’s delivery, with moments of her quieter, faster delivery lost to the theatre’s space.

Nancy’s eventual meeting with Ralph lacks some of the hard edge present in Lavery’s dialogue. And while that directorial choice emphasises the blank banality of Ralph’s character once more, one hopes for something other than that being reflected back to him.

And while much of the chilling, believable, messy authenticity of Lavery’s work continues to shine through, there is also the knowledge that since the play was first written, we have seen an explosion of examinations of such peoples and their behaviour. Frozen no longer sits in the isolation that made it so distinctive when it premiered.

This revival may add little to an ongoing conversation, but, with its omnipresent visuals and sounds of ice floes cracking and breaking, it does remind us that being frozen is not the same as being static. When the cracks come, they can be cataclysmic.

Continues until 19 May 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Chilling but messy

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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