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Bryony Lavery’s Frozen (Susan Elkin reviews)


Bryony Lavery

Directed by James Haddrell

Greenwich Theatre

Star rating: 4

It is, of course, a harrowing play. The death of a child is the worst thing which can happen to any parent. The abduction, rape and murder of a child is ten times worse.

Lavery’s 1998 play is set in “the present” so that’s where we are. Nancy (Kerrie Taylor) is still struggling to come to terms with the murder of her daughter Rhona, twenty years ago. The other two sides of this triangular play give us Ralph, the murderer (James Bradshaw) and Agnetha (Indra Ové) who is an American medical academic researching the mechanics of serial killer brains.

It begins with a series of monolgues, before gradually becoming interactive, and I have rarely seen a set (Alex Milledge) more skilfully calculated to support the action. The circular revolve incorporates a diametric gauzy screen. Nancy and her world is on one side and Ralph and his on the other. Each time it swings it is almost literally like seeing the other side of a coin as, vaguely, we can still see the other person moving around behind the screen. Most of Ové’s scenes are played off the revolve, looking in from the outside, as it were.

Flashbacks  take us to various points since ten-year old Rhona’s disappearance – poignantly she has been sent to return a pair of garden shears to her grandmother a few streets away. Taylor who says this is “the longest hardest journey I’ll ever go on with a character” initially nails Nancy’s bright irrational hope. If you don’t know where she is then the child must still be alive and a parent is Nancy’s position can maintain that for decades – it isn’t hard to think of real life comparisons.  Then Ralph. despite his chillingly meticulous planning, is eventually caught and the truth comes out. We see Nancy active in an organisation for parents of murdered children, weeping silently in Rhona’s bedroom and ultimately in an extraordinary confrontation. It’s a fine performance – tragic, truthful and almost unbearably painful.

Bradshaw conveys Ralph’s mindset beautifully too. He never smiles as he rationalises his actions as casually but intensely as if were a humourless type planning a supermarket trip. And it’s especially disturbing because he shows no remorse or anything approaching a “normal” feeling or a shred of empathy. Is there a slight change of attitude at the end? That’s left to the audience to decide.

Ové’s character, meanwhile is delivering lectures and posing some very difficult but pertinent questions, based on her encounters with Ralph and others like him. “If a person’s brain is physically built differently from the norm then how much responsibility can be assigned to him or her for his actions?  Is a murder like Rhona’s a crime of evil or illness? Is the murder itself a sin or a symptom?” There are, of course, no definitive answers.

Ové is a convincing actor and a strong  dramatic contrast to both the others but I think the play’s attempt to give her a completely disparate back story of her own fails. It feels like a sideshow. And it’s a puzzling start to the play to show Agnetha standing in the auditorium (standing in for an airport) in distress. It’s just a distraction although you can’t fault the quality of Ové’s acting.

This is an intensely serious, deeply disturbing play – impeccably directed by James Haddrell. Expect to leave in sober, very thoughtful mood.


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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