Powerful Revival

If you turn up to Frozen expecting to join in a rousing singalong of Let It Go, you’re in for a big surprise. In a sense, though, letting it go is exactly what all three of the main characters in Bryony Lavery’s 1998 play have to do.

They all have burdens to come to terms with, illusions to jettison. For neuropsychologist Agnetha, it’s her relationship with a recently deceased colleague; for Nancy, it’s 20 years of being defined as the mother of a 10-year-old murder victim; for Ralph, it’s his psychopathic denial of guilt
for the serial killings he’s committed. So, probably not one to take the children to, either.

Lavery explores all sorts of angles on the characters’ individual issues, and also on the question of whether some people simply are evil without any explanation, such as physical brain damage. It doesn’t sound like big fun, and it isn’t what you could call a comedy, but it’s not at all a long, relentless grind either.
It engages our thoughts and emotions equally, and avoids drawing pat conclusions without floundering in a morass of moral uncertainty.

Lavery has a long and distinguished career as a writer both of original plays and adaptations, but Frozen is surely her masterpiece. Granted, she overdoes the glacial metaphors about people being temperamentally cold or about brain connections being frozen into unresponsiveness; even Agnetha is an Icelandic- American (and, coincidentally, has the same patronymic as Björk). Conversely, the generally bare stage is relieved by a series of semi-abstract projections that could be either (or both) icescapes or networks of synapses.

Most of the play is a series of monologues. When characters do interact, it’s principally Agnetha examining Ralph in prison. There’s a single scene in which Nancy visits him as part of her own process of healing, but it’s so central that, from seeing it back in the early noughties, I’d misremembered the entire play as being about their meeting.

Suranne Jones (of Corrie and Doctor Foster fame) is adroit at the openness and directness which are the core of Nancy. Nina Sosanya as Agnetha is more about, not exactly suppression, but brushing her own matters aside and taking refuge in her professionalism. But it’s Jason Watkins as Ralph who really commands our attention. We’re riveted, even as we wish we could go off and take a shower to cleanse ourselves from the company of such an unpleasant character. Watkins is an extremely personable actor, who nevertheless does an excellent line in sinister and unsettling. He seems gifted at suggesting how a person can, well, go wrong. The Haymarket has recently been put up for sale. Here’s hoping its new owners continue to offer productions such as this excellent revival.

Until 5 May at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London SW1, 020-7930 8800, www.trh.co.uk