Venue: The Drama Barn
As someone who didn’t know much about the play I was about to watch, the first five minutes of Frozen set an unnerving tone. Before entering the Drama Barn, we were warned not only of strong language and sexual themes, but also of themes of paedophilia. The play then started with an eerie video clip of out of focus ferns, an American city and abandoned river side paths, shots which took on new meaning given the predatory warnings that had proceeded the performance. If these hadn’t been satisfactorily off-putting, the first scene was composed of several minutes of Sarah Warham’s Agnetha crying distraughtly on the floor without context; it was clear that Frozen was not going to be an easy ride.
That said, Frozen more than makes up for its unsavoury content through the quality of its performances. Annabel Redgate’s portrayal of Nancy, whose Daughter (Rhona) goes missing at the beginning of the play, tracks the ups and downs of grief, and how it can change a person. By the end of the play, her character is also perhaps the main factor that allows the play to finish on a tone that wasn’t entirely depressing. Sarah Warham’s performance as Agnetha was equally convincing, even if her American accent did slip slightly during the play’s more impassioned moments. As Ralph, the man who abducted, raped and then killed Nancy’s daughter, Callum Sharp was genuinely uncanny. However, at times this felt more like a result of the disturbing content than his performance; it is difficult not to find Ralph disturbing as he re-enacts his encounter with Rhona or dotes over his video collection. For most of the play, Ralph is putting on a façade; unfortunately, at times the performance felt less like Ralph himself acting, than simply Sharp making his own acting more obvious. Regardless, his performance in the final few scenes of the play was very well carried out, and did justice to the tension built up throughout the play.
Created by Bryony Lavery, and directed by Megan Ekinsmyth and Angel Lloyd, Frozen builds tension brilliantly. The characters barely interact during the first half of the play, which exists more as a series of consecutive monologues than anything else, and the result is a slow coming together and building of tension as the characters meeting becomes more and more inevitable. The result of this is an odd doubling, the themes of the play are troubling, but its structure allows it to remain compelling.
The play is concerned, above all else, with a simple question: what is the difference between a crime of evil and a crime of illness? The scientific analysis of what drives Ralph to commit atrocities rests slightly too heavily on pseudo-scientific cliché, such as referring to the left and right side of the brain as dealing with logic and creativity respectively, and the ability to define Ralph’s actions in such simple scientific terms obviously steers the discussion somewhat. However, the interrogation offered up by the play of how we ought to react of those who commit crimes as the result of illness was more complex and ran cleverly throughout the performance.
Frozen doesn’t exactly have a simple job; the topics it confronts are at best uncomfortable and at worst outright disturbing. It is an achievement, then, that the tone in which it finishes is that of catharsis and not apathy. After the play’s final scene the video that had started the play is repeated, but this time it is not unnerving; instead, it offers a feeling of closure.