On a stormy winter night in 1928, a young couple on their way to a party find their car stuck in the thick snow surrounding their destination. Unable to press on, they take refuge in an abandoned lodge, where they’re soon joined by two fellow party-goers who have also been having trouble with the weather.
Determined to keep their spirits up and make the most of their “chance” encounter, the members of the little gathering share drinks, show off their fancy dress costumes and, in the spirit of Christmas, begin telling ghost stories. It all seems like harmless fun, but in that cold, dark and intimate space, tension builds, with desire, jealousy and fear bubbling just beneath the surface.
So far, so straightforward: with its period setting and sexually charged undercurrent, The Frozen Scream starts out feeling like a classic Sarah Waters story. But don’t get too comfortable: as the characters gradually lose their grip on reality, struggling to distinguish fact from fiction, you might find yourself starting to get lost in their nightmare, too….
Created by Sarah Waters and Christopher Green, The Frozen Scream is a festive ghost story with a difference. Inspired by CC Gilbert’s 1928 novel of the same name, the show playfully merges the layers of history within the tale with the history of the novel itself. Partly inspired by Norse mythology and folk traditions, the story deals with the figure of Jack Frost, contrasting cuddlier, modern takes on the character with the more menacing shape he originally assumed. At the time of publication, it caused something of a stir, but today, The Frozen Scream has been all but forgotten after widespread belief in a curse surrounding the novel frightened potential readers and drove it from popularity.
Rumours of a curse first began with the curious death of the book’s publisher, Braithwaite Judd, who was mysteriously found frozen to death in an old ice house – in the middle of July. Soon afterwards, a critic who had been working on a review of the novel found himself stuck in a chiller cabinet at the Savoy Grill while trying to find his way to the bathroom. Finally, the author herself was killed in a flurry of snow and ice on a skiing trip in Zermatt. All three incidents occurred in the same year, and according to Gilbert’s partner, BoBo Miles, the novelist’s last words were “It’s through my heart, the ice is right through my heart!”
Whether or not you’re inclined to be superstitious, Green’s and Waters’s take on the tale is certain to leave you on edge, masterfully building and undercutting suspense throughout. Nervousness grows, only to be deflated, leaving viewers in a constant state of uncertainty, distrusting everyone even as they doubt their own fears.
The cast is wonderful, in equal parts spooky and hilarious, and the visuals are fantastic, including a gorgeous set, sparkly costumes and some brilliant special effects. A little more use of sound beyond knocks and scratches might have been made to heighten the drama further: this feels like a production that will only get more polished and compelling through more performances, so here’s hoping it will eventually tour elsewhere beyond the Wales Millennium Centre and the Birmingham Hippodrome. As it stands, though, it’s a hugely entertaining, thoroughly unique and very affordable night out that comes highly recommended to anyone brave enough to give it a try.
Without running the risk of giving anything away, there’s not much else that can be said, other than a warning to viewers to trust no one and to “Beware the ice!”
The Frozen Scream continues its run at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 17th January, and comes with 16+ age guidance. Tickets can be booked via the theatre’s website.