Writer: Debbie Oates
Director: Joe Sumsion
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
For a show about the preservative powers of freezing temperatures, Debbie Oates’s new play The Ockerbys on Ice is a surprisingly warm story that could thaw the coldest of hearts, straddling genres in a way rarely seen on the stage.
Half sci-fi, half family drama,The Ockerbys on Ice introduces us to the terminally ill Dennis Ockerby, who has agreed to a pioneering new procedure that will enable his brain to be cryogenically frozen when he dies and for him to be ‘re-awoken’ in the future, when a cure of his illness has been found. His wife Viv has won the opportunity to join him when he dies so they have a second chance at life together… But will this succeed? And ultimately, is this really what they both want? Should they pin their hopes on an unknown future or live life to the full in the present?
Lynsey Beauchamp has the difficult task of explaining the science behind the theory as the aptly named Dr Devine, a God-like figure who is desperate to be the first to carry out the procedures. Written as a presentation, Beauchamp has to deliver large amounts of expository dialogue on cryogenics and the history of resuscitation and she does well to capture the audience’s attention. Animations appear on screens around the stage to assist in this, however, the level of engagement with these lectures may depend on one’s understanding and interest in the scientific concepts described and the pace of these scenes does drag at times in Act One.
More successful is the unfolding domestic drama between the Ockerbys themselves, with nuanced performances from David Crellin and Karen Henthorn. Oates gives them relatable backgrounds; Dennis recollects his years spent checking tickets on ’tilting’ trains and the time he built a shed, Viv would get lost backing out of the garage and frets over the chops that she has left out for their tea. This ensures that despite the futuristic concept the characters feel believable, human and real and their journey is more compelling as a result.
Comedy and tragedy go hand in hand, with Crellin and Henthorn both capturing the humour and warmth of their relationship but becoming increasingly expressive and emotional as the show progresses. The scenes involving son Michael (Jack Hartley) are particularly affecting.
Designer Alison Heffernan’s set cleverly represents both the present and the future, as scenes are split between a sci-fi inspired cold, clinical, white hospital room and the wooden, earthy, practical hotel roof from which Viv often reflects.
By raising ethical dilemmas through the lens of an ordinary couple, The Ockerbys on Ice is a thought-provoking exploration of what is truly important in life. Having been in development since 2010 it has taken a long time to bring to the stage but one hopes it too can be brought to life again in the future. A philosophical and warm-hearted new play that deserves an audience.
Runs until 22 October 2016 | Image: Contributed