Chris Eldon Lee reviews Frozen, which is at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 15th February 2014.
Frozen is a beautifully written and most moving play. I was bowled over by the premiere performance at Birmingham Rep 16 years ago – and I was equally affected by the new production last night.
The stellar 1998 cast of three has been replaced by a more modest but equally excellent cast of six … four of whom are hard of hearing. But their exuberant signing and elastic expressions, cleverly integrated into the heart of the action, work wonders for the play.
Bryony Lavery’s lyrical and immaculately researched script really cuts right to the core of three disparate, complex characters, all wrapped up in the same tragedy. By telling the story of ten-year-old Rhona, who just popped down the road to granny’s house but never arrived, Lavery’s play uncannily predates and uncomfortably prophesies the brutal murder of April Jones of Machynlleth in 2012. So the current cast find themselves fingering a new edge to the writing.
We meet the mother Nancy, desperate to keep her daughter’s flame alight; brain damaged Ralph who entices Rhona into his van; and the Icelandic researcher Agnetha who is writing a thesis on Crimes of Evil – or Illness.
But in this new version we also meet their shadows. For side by side with them on stage, are three deaf actors who interpret the dialogue for the hard of hearing – but also hugely enhance comprehension for the rest of us. Jean St. Clair for example, as the other Nancy, somehow speaks volumes with her fingers, face and whole being – without uttering a word. Working hand in glove with Hazel Maycock (who gives a wonderful performance as the speaking Nancy) they provide an even deeper understanding of the character’s collapsing world than the script alone (tight and insightful as it is) could manage.
The same is true of the partnership between Michael Hugo and Neil Fox-Roberts as the abductor with an icebound psyche. Hugo is as superb on stage as ever, as his calculating, uncaring character disintegrates. But there is something even more latently evil in his grinning, unspeaking and unspeakable sidekick… especially when they break convention and communicate with each other.
And I was mesmerised by cool, sophisticated Sophie Stone, as Agnetha. Sophie is also substantially deaf but delivers her lines impeccably…making good use of her unfamiliar diction to convince us that she really is speaking with an Icelandic lilt! Her shadow, Deepa Shastri, meanwhile, is given full scope to express her inner feelings in a way that provides an even more complete character portrait.
A Birmingham revival of “Frozen” is long overdue and the originality of this co-production with Fingersmiths makes the long wait exceedingly worthwhile.
Visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk for information about Birmingham Rep.