Frozen – Review

Mark Rose and Sally Grey in Frozen at Park Theatre. Photos Gareth McLeod.
Mark Rose and Sally Grey in Frozen at Park Theatre. Photos Gareth McLeod.

Statistically there have been very few paedophile serial killers in the UK but that doesn’t stop parents worrying every time their child is a few minutes late home.

It is their worst nightmare. Their youngster goes out to play, is snatched and abused, and is never seen alive again.

The police will tell you that the fear of abduction is hugely out of proportion to the reality but we insist on smothering our kids in over-protectiveness.

When it does happen, like the Sarah Payne and Milly Dowler cases, we cuddle them ever tighter and pray they will always remain safe.

Bryony Lavery’s Frozen (absolutely no connection to the Disney animated film of the same name), a harrowing drama about child abduction, first aired 17 years ago and went on to play both at the National Theatre and on Broadway.

This powerfully told revival, by the Blueprint Theatre Company and directed by Ian Brown, opened at London’s Park Theatre last night and it has lost none of its impact.

As a mother I shared the pain of Nancy Shirley who sent her 10-year-old daughter, Rhona, off on an errand to her gran’s house nearby – and she disappeared forever.

At first you hope she’s just playing truant and then you convince yourself that one day she’ll knock on the door and announce her return.

But then, when the knock comes, years later, the reality hits home and you learn the full horror of what she endured.

The youngster had been enticed into a van, sexually abused and then murdered by a very methodical man who neatly filed the bodies of his polythene-wrapped victims (seven in all) in the floor of a shed close to the library of his perfectly arranged child porn videos.

Intercut with Nancy’s traumatic story, told mainly in monologue, is that of the murderer, Ralph Wantage, who was caught by chance when it was discovered that his body tattoos were a illustrated map of his crimes.

The third main character in the play is American academic Agnetha who tries to convince us that serial killers are ill and not evil.

Frozen at Park Theatre. Helen Schlesinger (Agnetha). Photo credit Gareth McLeod

She’s in the UK to deliver a lecture and we are her audience. Through a series of conversations with Ralph she concludes that the pour soul’s upbringing created the creature he became and that his actions were as a result of poor brain development.

Agnetha swings perilously close to being a bleeding heart liberal but is saved by a cold, clinical detachment to her study subject which mirrors Ralph’s attitudes to his victims.

Nancy can’t move on with her life until she confronts the monster who stole her daughter. She forgives him. She wants to understand. Under the circumstances I’m not so sure many of us would be able to follow her example.

Sally Grey, as the resilient Nancy, is mesmerising. Her eyes reveal all the pain and sorrow of a mother. Then there are flashes of anger and a yearning for revenge to be replaced, eventually, with hope.

She presents a very brave Nancy who forces herself to confront an uncomprehending evil and emerge stronger and victorious.

You can’t bring yourself to find much sympathy with Wantage, played with real bile by Emmerdale and Corrie actor Mark Rose.

He’s a bit of a stereotype, obviously, with the usual excuses for his behaviour (Ralph that is, not Mark). The abusive upbringing, of course, a loner, but also someone who says he doesn’t understand what remorse is.

He’s an animal who does what he wants without thinking of the victim or the consequences. It’s only when he is confronted by Nancy, who shows him family snapshots, that some humanity begins to surface.

Helen Schlesinger’s Agnetha opens the production with an hysterical wailing and, momentarily throughout, has teary little breakdowns, the reason only becoming clearer at the end.

But her own feelings of guilt distract from her part in telling what is an intense, traumatic and bleak story that contrasts ice cold detachment with raw emotion.

The science and psychology may offer explanations but, as parents, do we want that? Or would we prefer the American system where they offer tickets to see the perpetrators fry in the electric chair?

Frozen runs at the Park Theatre until April 11.

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