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The Frozen Scream, Wales Millennium Centre | reviews, news & interviews

The Frozen Scream, Wales Millennium Centre

The Frozen Scream, Wales Millennium Centre

Pastiche co-written by Sarah Waters is a brave misfire

Victoria John (left) and Anna Andresen have a date with the supernaturalPolly Thomas

There are moments in this collaboration between performer and theatre impresario Christopher Green and best-selling novelist Sarah Waters, where, rather like with a Stewart Lee stand-up routine, the audience has to make a conscious decision whether they are going to go all the way not so much with the idea presented, but with the mode of presentation. There are times in The Frozen Scream when it feels like the punchline is getting further away rather than closer.

Part pastiche, part prank, part homage, part Kiss Me, Kate for the post-9/11 social scientist, The Frozen Scream is an adaptation of the “lost novel” from “forgotten” 1920s thriller writer CC Gilbert. We are in Mousetrap territory, but one with a heightened sense of post-modern paranoia, and with the knotted relationships splattered with human frailty that are a trademark of Waters’s novels thrown in for good measure. It is one of the show's strengths, and offers the audience what will become an all-important coordinate.

There are too many moments where the audience is unsure of its footing 

The play opens with familiar footsteps: the audience is introduced to a short parade of characters who share entangled, difficult pasts, stranded in the snow in an abandoned hunting lodge in the far reaches of the estate of the gentry to whose party they are all headed. Waters expertly plays with convention and the humour that begins in this opening act is maintained, and is the winning ingredient of what turns out to be a play that does not quite fulfil its ambitions.

The cast is exemplary in their nailing of the archetypes. Andrew Dowbiggin has very much the air of a Barrymore about him as the rakeish Tony; Victoria John is excellent as a black-bobbed Dorothy Parker-esque lesbian force of nature; Anna Andresen moves between the two of them with a convincing air of fragility hemmed with steel. Christopher Green himself, who also directs, gives a lovely comic turn as Roger, and Rula Lenska, who comes in late as aunt Agatha, does so with all the class you would expect.

As the plot begins to thicken, and the shadows of the campfire-supernatural begin to crowd in, there is a real sense that the confines of the pastiche are beginning to open up and towards a post-modern mischievous final third. Unfortunately, the concept, although clear in its progression, never quite manages to be fully realised. There are too many empty spaces, too many moments where the audience is unsure of its footing.

But there is something that is, overall, intriguing about The Frozen Scream that may prove to linger. The pastiche element has real strengths, and the performances are entirely endearing. There is courage here, in that Green, who has co-written, directed and starred in this show, must know that he will fail to convince everyone in the audience of his vision. And for that, this is brave theatre, and worthy of a salute.

  • Frozen Scream at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff until 20 December, then at Birmingham Hippodrome from 7 to 17 January 2015
The pastiche element has real strengths, and the performances are entirely endearing


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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