AMI JONES is reduced to a quivering pile of theatre editor by this chilly killer of a show.

Bryony Lavery Corpus Playroom Frozen Max Upton Nicola Marsh paedophile rapist

Corpus Playroom, 29th November – 3rd December, 7pm, £5-6

Directed & produced by Nicola Marsh

[rating: 4/5]

I’ve always been mildly fascinated – and I hope I’m not weird in admitting this – whenever the latest awful story comes through about yet another serial-paedophile-rapist-killer-man. Because it always is ‘yet another’, isn’t it? And when did we get so obsessed with them, anyway? How do we ‘fix’ it? How do we ‘fix’ them? These questions and more Bryony Lavery’s Frozen seeks not to answer, but to prod and navigate with an intimacy at once excruciatingly tender and utterly brutal.

Max Upton as Ralph, the paedophilic serial rapist/murderer at the heart of the play, was nothing short of devastating, meting out the swings and swerves of a completely alien mindset with chilly precision and raw intensity. It takes great skill to make an audience feel physical nausea at the eerie cooing of a stranger trying to lure a child into a van, then unabashed pity at the confused rage of remembered childhood abuse, all within the same hour. Every unsettling, mildly horrible experience I’ve ever had with creepy strangers in supermarkets or on public transport was somehow evoked by Upton and continued to trail behind me long after I had left the Playroom.

The choice of script was highly ambitious, one that demands acting of extreme ability and subtlety. Nicola Marsh as the mother of Ralph’s latest ten-year-old victim delivered a strong performance, but one which fell just short of the staggering demands she placed on herself and her fellow actors. Marsh’s ease and naturalism on stage is of a level unusual amongst student actors, but I wanted more. The mother of a child who is missing-then-found-dead should have utterly broken my heart. She tugged at it in some particularly beautiful moments, but didn’t do the damage she should have.

Liane Grant completed the three-hander as American psychologist Agnetha, harrowed from years of studying men like Ralph. She was strongest when delivering her ‘findings’ (real-life facts about the psychology of paedophilia, EVER SO SUBTLY slipped in) in a chilly, distant lecturer-monotone, but struggled more when it came to showing any raw emotion onstage, particularly with the standard set so high by fellow actors.

The production was ultimately let down by what came across as slapdash, lazy technical elements. The images projected onto the Playroom walls throughout were not particularly inspiring or creatively used, and had the added annoyance of obscuring perfectly good performances. Sound effects were clumsy and abrupt, and would have been utterly unnecessary even had they been done well.

If you want one of the most powerful plays Cambridge will have to offer this term (and maybe for the rest of the year), go see it. Just, for your own sake, take a friend. You’ll be jumping at slight sounds and swerving to avoid shadows all the way home, trust me.