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First rate production of FROZEN by Tower Theatre Company – Review

FrozenOkay, let’s clear one thing up up straight away. This is not a review of a play based on the Walt Disney film of the same name. In fact it would be difficult to think of anything that could be more unlike the sugar coated Disney world than this play, currently playing in Camden’s Theatro Technis, by Bryony Lavery.

Frozen is the story of three individuals, each of whom is linked by the abduction and murder of Rhona, a 10 year old girl. Nancy (Ruth Sullivan) is the girl’s mother. A strong woman who must keep herself and her family together in the 20 years from the fateful day her daughter went off to her grandmother’s house and was never seen again. Local man Ralph (Michael Bettell) is the man responsible for Rhona’s disappearance. He is logical and methodical and approaches the fulfilment of his ‘urges’ in a systematic organised way. Finally, there is psychiatrist Dr Agnetha Gottmundsdottir (Lisa Rost-Welling) who is in London to talk about the the academic thesis – “Serial Killing … a forgivable act?” – she has been working on with her long time collaborator Dr David Nabkus,

I’m going to be honest and admit that Frozen was one of the most difficult plays I have ever sat through. The subjects of child abduction, paedophilia and murder were never going to make for an easy night at the theatre. This is mainly down to the writing which, being based on real events and people, is horrendously authentic all the way through which makes for some very difficult viewing as an audience member, especially when the script is being delivered by a really fine cast. Ruth was truly amazing as Nancy coming to terms with the disappearance and as the years wore on, the acceptance that she would probably never see her daughter again. There are many ways that Nancy could have been played and Ruth has found the perfect formula – mixing good old fashioned humour with pathos  – and making Nancy a figure that I think all of us could admire and respect. Her opening monologues were heartfelt and totally believable and my positive feelings about her grew and grew throughout the show,

Likewise, Michael Bettell’s Ralph could have been an over the top, Hannibal Lecter type caricature of everyone’s idea of a serial killer. Instead, he makes Ralph a cold, heartless, possibly troubled, man who works things out in his head and becomes irritated when the police make a mess of his shed by not investigating it in a thorough and organised way. Ralph is a figure who initially we are supposed to hate and then eventually, thanks to his interactions with Agnetha, possibly come to pity as we learn more about his early life and his suspected frontal lobe issues. For me, he was a chilling character, probably because he was so ordinary and unlikely to stand out in a crowd. A great piece of acting once more.

As far as the play goes, Director Jacqui Marchant-Adams has put together a very slick, and at times, quite horrific production with a deceptively simple set by Michael Bettell that assist the storytelling without ever distracting from the actors and the action going on. I think the writer has opened a bit of a Pandora’s Box with this tale and I know that if she had been available the two of us would have had a really good chat about some of the themes and ideas presented. I think the final result will be different for different people but I do know that whoever you are, and whatever your beliefs about nature versus nurture, you will leave Frozen with a lot on your mind having seen a first rate production.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Tower Theatre Company
presents Frozen by Bryony Lavery
Directed by Jacqui Marchant-Adams

The tale of a family’s devastation, Frozen follows three lives as they intertwine after being connected by the disappearance of a young girl named Rhona. Nancy, Rhona’s mother, must adjust to a new normal as she lives on without her child, never giving up hope that she will be found alive. Ralph, a local man, has a troubled past and a disturbing present. Agnetha, a psychologist from the US, has spent years researching people like Ralph, and has become convinced that they are ill rather than evil.

A difficult, important, devastating, big, brave, chilling, but ultimately uplifting and hopeful play.

The play caused some controversy in 2004, when eminent psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis discovered that the character of Agnetha was based on her life and work (but with some notable embellishments and falsehoods) and that the play borrowed heavily from a book she had written called Guilty by Reason of Insanity as well as an article about her called Damaged, which appeared in the New Yorker in 1997.

Frozen was first staged in 1998 at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre with Tom Georgeson as Ralph, Anita Dobson as Nancy, and Josie Lawrence as Agnetha. The play won the TMA Best New Play award and the Eileen Anderson Central Television Award for Best Play. It was revised and revived at the National Theatre with the same actors in the roles.

Bryony Lavery also wrote the adaptation of Treasure Island recently seen at the National Theatre.

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