Frozen at the Theatre Royal Haymarket
Jonathan Munby’s production of Frozen is the kind where the ostensible wattage of its central star has dictated the size of the space used, rather than what would suit the play best. Without a cohesive idea of how to scale up such an intimate piece for the Theatre Royal Haymarket – or, at least, an idea that stretches beyond flickering images on giant moving screens – much of the subtleties of Bryony Lavery’s narrative are lost.
Admittedly, Munby’s duff direction can’t dull Frozen’s ugly core. Suranne Jones is Nancy, the mother of a 10-year-old girl killed by Jason Watkins’s Ralph, while Nina Sosanya is a doctor who wants to explore the “frozen arctic sea that is the criminal brain”‘ (she’s basically the story’s Clarice Starling). Initially, the narrative is told through a trio of decades-spanning monologues, then the characters gradually begin to interact, the play shifting from the numbness of grief to a discussion of empathy, compassion and forgiveness.
Lavery – who partially, and controversially, based aspects of Frozen on an article by Malcolm Gladwell, and a book by psychiatrist Dorothy Lewis – flirts with some interesting, and uncomfortable, ideas about our concepts of right and wrong, especially in relation to the impact of physical and mental abuse on the makeup of a murder’s mind. Yet both the production and the structure of the play itself – those monologues quickly become tedious – end up smothering the more engaging elements.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Suranne Jones feels so…off. She never quite convinces at any stage of Nancy’s journey from worry to black hole pain to hard-won acceptance. With that fundamental emotional anchor out of whack Frozen comes across as colder than it should.
Watkins fares better as Ralph, a genuinely chilling and wretched creature, cataloguing his tapes of child abuse with a nauseating pride while remaining pitiful enough that the questions Lavery seeks to ask of the audience are never off-putting. However, even then Watkins succumbs to some irritating, over-stated quirks that threaten to make Ralph a more garden-variety kind of creep.
All the ingredients should be there for a gut-wrenching, deeply upsetting evening. Instead Munby’s Frozen feels like a failed attempt at artfully rendering a Sunday night ITV drama on stage.
Photo: Johan Persson
Frozen is at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 9th February until 5th May 2018. Book your tickets here.