Theatre Royal Haymarket, London
BRYONY LAVERY’S Frozen arrives at the Theatre Royal with a starry cast and a formidable track record after previous productions at Birmingham Rep, the National Theatre and on Broadway attracted award nominations.
But there's something about Lavery's story of a remorseless serial killer who commits the kind of crime that makes avengers of us all and sets mobs baying for blood that leaves me cold.
Centred on the rape and murder of a child, Frozen cuts through spontaneous revulsion with intelligent questions while seeming to exploit, rather than dissipate, the prurience of the world at large.
Lavery asks whether the killer can be truly held responsible for his actions, given that his physical brain development has been damaged and its normal functioning is “frozen” — in the writer’s words, “crime as sin or crime as symptom?”— and whether there can be forgiveness for such a crime.
If so, is forgiveness essential to the healing process?
Excellent questions but, somehow, not adequately explored. And there's a dissonance for the audience between the rather clinical dissection of the crime and the compassion and empathy its fallout should engender.
The mother Nancy (Suranne Jones), killer Ralph (Jason Watkins) and psychiatric researcher Agnetha (Nina Sosanya) are all cleverly equipped by the writer with quirks and oddities that evidence independent consciousness not will.
The difference between them, though, is in morality. While the killer calmly comments of killing children that “the only thing I’m sorry about is that it’s not legal,” the psychiatrist is merely panicked by flying and the mother is on the margins of ineptness in acknowledging love.
Despite the skilful performances of these splendid actors, emotional truth is lessened in the interests of inquiry. While Nancy is heartbreaking as a woman in the extremes of grief — because Suranne Jones makes her so — ultimately, the character is never fully formed. Forgiveness, in the end, seems just too easy and its potentially transformative power stated but not felt.
Undeniably, Frozen is a clever piece in exploring profound questions about the banality of evil and Watkins, as killer, chillingly portrays a truly loathsome little man.
But something of the emotional heart is missing, leaving us wallowing in disgust and joylessness when pity and enlightenment should actually unfold.
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