For the past 20 years, Theatre Alibi has been telling stories in small venues over the south and west of England, developing a reputation for innovative physical theatre. The Freeze is very much in this tradition and demonstrates well its strengths and weaknesses.
The play takes a simple premise. A girl becomes pregnant and wants the baby. Her boyfriend doesn't because it reawakens in him memories of childhood traumas that he's fled into the Catholic Church to escape. For some reason, this story is set in a new ice age, but the play wears the freeze like an unnecessary overcoat - really it isn't that cold. The ice is just another metaphor that - along with fire and water, birth and death - constitute a heavy mass of symbolism that the flimsy structure of this play cannot support.
The play is written by Theatre Alibi's artistic director, Daniel Jamieson. It's not 'written' in a literary sense - it's unlikely ever to be published, or performed again. Rather it's constructed for this group of actors to perform, and therein lies its strength. The acting is far superior to the writing - and that's The Freeze's salvation.
Three actors - Jordan Whyte, Henry Hawkes and Joe Hall - play all the parts, from children, through adolescence to old age. They're willing to take risks and although, to be honest, not everything works, there are some exquisitely tender moments when their interaction really sparkles. The material they're working with is sometimes confused, but their honesty and integrity overcome that limitation in the text.
A narrator figure, Hall, too often tells us what's happening and what the characters are feeling, instead of allowing the actors to convey those emotions and actions by their moods and movement - which they're more than capable of doing.
A strong music track by Alex Vann and Jane Harbour accompanies some fine physical acting and this compensates for the weakness of the dialogue. Some of the mime work seems more appropriate to a drama school workshop than a public performance, but other moments are sublime - notably, a powerful sequence depicting fire and water.
The Freeze has plenty of weaknesses to stimulate lively discussions afterwards and enough strengths to make it a worthwhile evening in the theatre. It's likely to appeal most to those studying drama at school and college who will feel at home with its techniques, as was testified by the large and enthusiastic audience of teenagers I was happy to join.
- Robert Hole (reviewed at the Exeter Phoenix)