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Frozen (Birmingham)

Dark themes are sensitively handled in this powerful and thought provoking piece of theatre, says Alexandra Taylor.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Jenny St Clair as Nany
© Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Nancy (Hazel Maycock, Jean St Clair) is the wife and mother whose daughter disappears on the way to granny's house. Unwilling to believe her daughter is dead, Nancy establishes an action group that works to unite parents with their missing children. However, her real journey begins when the police find her daughter's body and reveal the truth about how she died.

Ralph (Neil Fox-Roberts, Mike Hugo) is the swearing, tattooed delivery driver who refuses any job which takes him more than eighty miles from the valuable stash of child pornography he keeps in his shed. He talks casually, even proudly, about how he entices young girls into his van. It is only after his arrest and conviction for a number of murders that he is forced to confront the reality of what he's done.

Agnetha (Deepa Shastri, Sophie Stone) is the American psychiatrist whose research brings her to the UK to interview and examine Ralph. Suffering with her own grief after the recent death of a close friend, Agnetha struggles to remain detached as she delves deeper into Ralph's disturbing past. She presents her findings to the audience, attempting to explain why some people commit such horrific acts.

‘Frozen' is a harrowing piece which deals with a number of dark, adult themes, including bereavement, paedophilia and child abuse. It's not an easy play to watch, but the strong script by Bryony Lavery and the powerful performances make it compelling, moving and thought provoking. The lighting, sound and stage design are beautifully subtle, supporting and enhancing the performances and allowing them to shine.

The most memorable scene, directed by Jeni Draper, is Nancy's visit to the chapel of rest, which begins with the fragile tenderness of a mother saying goodbye to her long dead daughter, but ends with a visceral tirade of vitriol at the man who took her life. It is just one of many examples where the play deftly conveys the unpredictable swings of emotion experienced by all three characters as the action progresses and their stories become more and more intertwined.

In this collaboration with Fingersmiths, the most innovative aspect of the production is that each character is played by two actors simultaneously, one predominantly using spoken English, the other predominately British Sign Language. The sign language is not just an added extra, it is an integral part of the performance and enhances the whole production. The technique makes it possible for each character to outwardly express internal monologues - asking their counterpart a question, sharing knowing glances or working together to recreate scenes from the past. It also lends depth to the characters - one actor is outwardly calm and still, expressing themselves through spoken words, while the other uses the more physical nature of sign language to express the raging turmoil underneath the surface.

‘Frozen' is an absorbing, challenging and intense piece of theatre that I thoroughly recommend.

- Alexandra Taylor