Evil, obsession and forgiveness are explored by Bryony Lavery in her disturbing 1998 play, Frozen, revived in a new production, directed by Jonathan Munby, at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
One sunny evening, a ten year old girl is sent on a fateful errand, delivering garden shears to her grandmother, but she never arrives. Consequently her mother, Nancy, is forced to confront nightly every parent’s worst nightmare which turns to reality with a shocking discovery that her daughter has been abducted, abused and killed by a paedophile. The story then whizzes us across 20 years to the point where the prolific culprit is caught and the focus then shifts on to the monster rather than the mother who is only just really coming to terms with what’s happened to her child.
The play has three main characters: The grieving mother, an American psychiatrist undertaking research into why some people commit such horrific crimes and the serial killer himself who, when apprehended becomes the subject of the latter’s studies. It starts with each character’s own version of the story but soon the audience is presented with the intertwining stories, as they connect with one another over a very painful event.
It doesn’t help that the drama unfolds as a series of monologues, giving us carved off slices of the story. Each of the characters is isolated by pain, by loss and by damage. It is only when the play opens out into dialogue as the characters make contact that it momentarily gains in strength, most notably, in one of the less predictable moments, when the mother comes face to face with her child’s killer.
But Lavery’s slow burn, low heat script doesn’t shed much fresh insight into a theme that has been handled with more power and tension on television and screen in the intervening years since this play first premiered. Indeed this is a drama which lacks real depth while the characterisation remains sketchy. One particular scene is likely to induce nausea in the audience, when the serial killer, Ralph, discusses in a warm brummie accent his locking eyes on his young prey, glimpsed in the distance before conducting a one sided conversation of calculated friendliness.
Designer Paul Wills and video designer Luke Halls deploy a series of shifting panels onto which brain scans and images of a child’s face are projected.
Suranne Jones convinces as the grieving mother, Nancy, conveying a mix of fragility and dignity and struggling to hold it together for the sake of her surviving daughter, the unseen Ingrid. Nina Sosanya is to be frank, a bit of a bore as Agnetha, the panic- prone psychiatrist, investigating the roots of Ralph’s behaviour. Jason Watkins, meanwhile, is chilling as the child serial killer, Ralph, expressing the precious little remorse for his actions. Indeed when he describes his crimes in blandly technical terms, it feels as if he might be addressing a regional sales conference.
In short then, the play is a disappointing look at the banality of evil.
Runs until May 5th
Box Office: 020 7930 8800Last modified: April 6, 2021