Bryony Lavery, Frozen (Directed by Jonathan Munby, Theatre Royal Haymarket)
Of course they’ve cut the songs and the lesbian subtext and —
Well, there’s been a load of films and such with the title Frozen, so let’s have our cakes and eat them. This one is a play first performed in 2004, based around the kidnapping of a young girl, Rhona. Her mother, Nancy (Suranne Jones), is left in limbo, wondering where her daughter has gone, campaigning for awareness of child snatchers and molesters, emotionally, er, frozen. Ralph (Jason Watkins) is the monster who has taken Rhona and many other children, clearly emotionally damaged and, er, frozen. Finally, there is the psychologist, Agnetha (Nina Sosanya), who wants to interview Ralph and comes from America and Iceland. She’s probably, yanno…
The play isn’t exactly a three-hander, but much of the first half rotates through these characters in a series of monologue, clearly delaying the key Silence of the Lambs moment of confrontation and interrogation. These are clearly high octane performances — Jones transcends her soap fame — but it risks being a little dry. This also disguises the fractured time schemes — if Rhona vanished in the 1980s, how come Agnetha is checking emails on a plane? For that matter, in Ralph’s long account of his childhood, we are left wondering about the anachronism of the details. When were Viennettas first available (1982… so not in Ralph’s childhood). The convention of the soliloquy is honest speaking, but Ralph is as fascinating and slippery as Iago before him.
Agnetha raises more problems — she clearly Has Issues and OCD, but I was never clear where this came from and the nature of her Big Secret. There are some ethical problems, as some of her material is lifted from Malcolm Gladwell’s interview with psychologist Dorothy Lewis and her book Guilty by Reason of Insanity (1998), although Gladwell felt that Lavery had transformed it sufficiently to not constitute plagiarism.
And I’m not sure we ever see Nancy grieving enough, but then she is clearly Staying Strong.
The more I thought about this play, the more I was troubled. I got the impression that it was letting us see into the mind of a serial killer. But Ralph is so self deluded and mendacious, that I don’t think we do. And perhaps a playwright is not qualified to do so. Perhaps a play is not the place to see it. In the end, he is another fascinating monster, and the materials a little too schematic.