Review: Frozen

Tom Bevan 18 November 2015

A tense silence lingers as the play begins, three figures frozen at opposite corners of the stage. Plastering the majority of the set is a wall of violent sexual images, made more disturbing by the childlike quality of the drawings. Black crosses censoring the most explicit parts of the pictures, as well as the lack of dialogue, create an overwhelming sense of the inexpressibility of the “unbearable” – an idea central to a play which sets out to explore the psychology of a serial killer, the mother of one of his young victims, and the doctor struggling to explain his horrific crimes.

Considering the play consists mostly of alternating monologues, the actors did well to maintain such an intense atmosphere throughout. Xelia Mendes-Jones, playing the mother Nancy, was especially captivating. Her subtle shifts in facial expression, use of silence, and the versatility of her physicality, alternating between the hunched, shuffling figure of grief, to her more confident stature during speeches as representative of “Flame” (a fictional charity for the recovery of lost children), were beautifully executed.

As with all the characters in this play, there is nothing ‘clean’ about her portrayal. Nancy’s crumbling domestic life is marked by a strained relationship with her remaining daughter, Ingrid – in a particularly uncomfortable moment, Nancy claims she wants to “tear her eyes out”. The complexity of emotions is visualised brilliantly by a white line of sand which breaks across the stage: it divides and isolates the characters, providing a cage within which Nancy paces for the 20-odd years the play spans. As the play progresses, characters cross over and smudge this line, reinforcing the unsettling parallels in the violent language of their monologues.

Eleanor Lind Booton’s performance as the paedophile Ralph was chilling, and the energy with which she maintained the twitching, stammering intensity of the character was impressive throughout. Moments where she turned to address members of the audience as Ralph’s victims, with the insistent repetition of “Hello”, were particularly terrifying. However, the imitation of what seemed to be Tourette’s syndrome was somewhat problematic in the way it perpetuates incorrect associations with violence and instability.

Despite Booton’s stand-out performance, the audience is given little insight into Ralph’s mind, which is precisely the point. The interruptions of the Doctor, Agnetha, continually fail to convince the audience that his crimes can be reduced to pure neurology, and Ralph himself seems unable to explain more than the “logistics” of his actions. The movement towards resolution and confrontation is undermined by the fact that the characters never directly face each other on stage. While the intensity of the production builds to a haunting conclusion, the play provides no easy answers to the questions it poses, and the audience is left to wonder at the silent horror of the unexplainable.