This play opened at the Birmingham Rep in 1998 when it won the TMA Best New Play Award and the Eileen Anderson Central Television Award for Best Play. The same director, Bill Alexander and the same cast Anita Dobson, Tom Georgeson and Josie Lawrence reprise their roles for this limited Cottesloe run.
This is a disturbing play concerning the sexual abuse and killing of children and the effect it has on those involved. Bryony Lavery has written a risky and brave drama that succeeds in putting across a balanced approach that is both tragic and traumatic, yet optimistic in its final analysis.
Lasting 2 hours and 45 minutes it concerns three people Ralph, who is a child murderer, Nancy the murdered child’s mother and Agnetha, an American who is researching a thesis ‘Serial Killing – a forgivable act?” The play is mostly a series of short related monologues (covering a period of 20 years) with the exception of a few scenes when the characters are brought together.
It is suggested that child killers may not be evil, but mentally ill because of a damaged or under-developed brain, and that we need to forgive rather than hold on to hatred. This way we can let go and get on with our lives instead of being frozen in grief.
Anita Dobson is absolutely phenomenal as Nancy. You can feel her pain, suffering and helplessness of holding on to hope that 10-year-old Rhona is alive and safe, the torture when the child’s body is found, and then her sensitive and touching performance when finally meeting with her child’s killer to forgive him and how this finally gives her the strength to move on.
Tom Georgeson is also superb as the sad calculated child killer Ralph, who finally shows some remorse after meeting Nancy, but this remorse becomes too much to bear. And Josie Lawrence convincingly plays Agnetha, who interviews Ralph for her thesis, but who is suffering the loss of a loved one also.
Bryony Lavery’s play poses many thought provoking questions: Are child killers sick rather than evil? Should one forgive? Can one eventually go on and have a happy life? Is it a good idea to meet with your child’s killer? And so on. Each one of us will have our own opinion, but this play is Lavery’s view and the message that is portrayed at the end is that “nothing is unbearable” so this offers a glimmer of hope.
I should mention the superb use of lights by Paul Pyant, which are beamed down creating a haunting atmosphere on a bare stage design by Ruari Murchison, which has just a few props brought on and off from the side of the stage between the short scenes. Very effective indeed!
Some may find this play distressing but I urge you to see it nevertheless as it is an interesting take on this distressing subject.
What other critics had to say..... NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Nancy's spiritual transformation ....strikes me as slick, liberal wish-belief. The vivid eloquence of Lavery's writing and the force of the central performances are redeeming features." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, " Remarkable play.... Greeted with pin-drop silence, this is a play that genuinely enlarges one's understanding." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Lavery and her cast make you see the complexity of the issues, clinical as well as moral. They also make you feel the loss, the pain, the unbearable waste." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Frozen is a truly outstanding play, brilliantly performed."
Links to full reviews from newspapers...