Jack Belloli 11 March 2010

Robinson College Auditorium – Wed 10th-Fri 12th March 2010


‘Oh, it’s a tragedy. I should’ve brought my tissues’: thus moaned my plus-one as we headed towards Robinson on Wednesday night. It turned out things were more complicated than that – Frozen is perhaps the only tragedy to end with one character telling another a joke (and a fairly funny one too). Odd it may have been, but this production was also one of the most startling and effective I’ve seen this term.

The play revolves – if that’s strong enough a word – around convicted paedophile and serial killer Ralph Wantage (George Johnston), the mother of his final victim (Ayoola Alabi), and the psychiatrist (Brid Arnstein) who has to face her own troubles as she studies him. All three parts are of roughly equal size and rely heavily on monologue, and all three performers rise to the challenge with aplomb. While Arnstein still needs to settle into the lecture which gives the play its central structure, she consistently combines coolness with a sense of being out of her depth, and gets the play off to an unnerving start. Alabi is wonderfully understated: her first reference to her daughter’s disappearance, ‘she’s not in Wales, we’ve leafleted there’, is all the more powerful for its matter-of-factness. Her monologues are well textured, as she recounts her experiences with wildly varying degrees of detachment. Johnston gives Wantage credibility, and a series of mannerisms which never feel forced. In a play that’s essentially about tensions between the body and the mind (according to my Philosopher plus-one), Johnston’s physical self-control is astonishing. Although he doesn’t actually sport the tattoos which are so prized by his character, you never doubt they’re there when he mimes them.

If I have nothing but praise for the actors, I’ve a few small production quibbles. It’s a brave move to project an undisguised Microsoft Word document bearing the play’s title and author as your audience comes in, and then to open the play by shamelessly backspacing and writing over it. It walks a fine line between being Brechtian and simply lazy. It only just errs on the right side in my book. For the most part, sound and lighting are suitably stark and penetrating, but occasionally they lack subtlety: when Alabi describes seeing her daughter’s corpse for the first time, they quite literally strike up the violins and it’s hard to suppress a laugh.

Enough with the criticism. It’s a crying shame that, what with end-of-term revels and the lack of a print run, more people won’t get to experience this play. Far worthier of sold-out status than many an ADC mainshow, Frozen is a rare and sophisticated treat: try to make time for it.

Jack Belloli