Are evil people born that way? Or are abusers so damaged by the abuse that they themselves endured, that they cannot truly be held accountable for their actions?
These aren’t especially fun questions to mull over, and Bryony Lavery’s 1998 play drops them on our plates like a cold serving of moral gruel.
Frozen is a frequently shocking examination of the mind and motives of a serial child abuser. Ralph (Jason Watkins) is a methodical fantasist who prides himself on the degree of planning and precision that goes into his “operations”. He curates a collection of sex tapes which he keeps hidden in a suitcase. When he’s eventually caught and imprisoned, it’s his organisational sloppiness that frustrates him, rather than anything as human as remorse for his crimes.
When Ralph abducts 10-year-old Rhona, her mother Nancy (Suranne Jones) is forcibly drawn into a decades long orbit around the predator. She’s driven at first by a boiling mixture of grief, guilt and a longing for revenge, even violent retribution.
And then, lending this production a sort of Mindhunter-esque clinical edge, there’s Agnetha (Nina Sosanya), a criminal psychologist who makes Ralph the case study of her dissertation, which she presents to the audience of the Theatre Royal as though hosting a particularly grim TED Talk. Her character places a familiar insulating layer between the audience and the horror, the same emotional disconnect of Netflix true crime documentaries that deftly transmute violence into entertainment. You can no longer be disgusted by something when you zoom in close enough to it.
Monologue is used exclusively for the first acts, the three characters spilling their minds and untangling feelings in real-time. This makes their final encounters and confrontations all the more impactful, the return to dialogue and drama like being slapped out a long dream. Agnetha’s interviews with the imprisoned Ralph are a highlight, as Sosanya balances the objectives of her character with the revulsion that she, and we all, feel. Watkins is despicable as the wounded, but never quite declawed, Ralph.
A chilling horror that hits its mark, but can never find satisfying answers to the questions it raises.