Frightfully Festive – The Frozen Scream by Christopher Green, Sarah Waters & CC Gilbert

On a stormy winter night in 1928, a young cB63Xuh4IcAAgR6xouple 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!”

Arthur_Rackham_Jack_Frost_1913-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.

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The Frozen Scream – A New Play by Sarah Waters & Christopher Green

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After their hugely successful collaboration on a recent UK tour of Cape Town Opera’s Show Boat, the Birmingham Hippodrome and Wales Millenium Centre are once again teaming up, this time to present a chilling murder mystery play to be shown in the depths of winter 2014-15. Based on a largely forgotten novel by English writer CC Gilbert, The Frozen Scream has now been adapted for the stage by acclaimed novelist Sarah Waters and Olivier Award-winning writer and performer Christopher Green.

First published in 1928, The Frozen Scream was initially well-received, but its popularity began to decline after a series of mysterious deaths resulted in a superstitious belief that the book was cursed. It tells the story of a group of friends who find themselves stranded in an abandoned lodge after setting off for a costume ball in the middle of a snowstorm. There, they attempt to entertain themselves with terrible tales of Jack Frost, until their fantastic fictions seem to turn into horrifying reality. According to ccgilbert.net, it became known for its “brooding, chilling, vision of bleak spookiness, occasional bursts of ultra-violence and eccentric characters”.

149667884_165635dd95_mThe same year, CC Gilbert also caused something of a stir when she was “outed” as female by the radical Ladies’ League, who accused her of “withholding her sex to the detriment of all femalekind”. The fact that she had opted not to reveal her sex perhaps seemed a step backwards to many women at the time, particularly as The Frozen Scream was published in the same year as Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness and Djuna Barnes’s Ladies Almanack.

Known for her evocative historical fiction, Sarah Waters is a fantastic candidate to rekindle interest in this lost tale. Her best-selling books include Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, The Little Stranger, Affinity and The Night Watch, four of which have been adapted as television dramas, though this is her first foray into writing for the stage. Said Waters:

“Chris has been great to work with – really inspirational – and it’s been incredibly productive having someone to brainstorm with. I wasn’t sure how I’d take to writing for the stage. I’m a great theatre-goer, but plays and novels are such different things: working on The Frozen Scream was a bit of a leap into the dark for me. But it’s proved to be a real adventure, and tremendous fun. I’m thrilled to be working in a new medium, with such a talented writer and performer as Chris. I’m looking forward to giving our audiences some scares, and some fun. I’m also excited to be working in my homeland, Wales.”

Christopher Green, on the other hand, is no stranger to creating unusual stage productions. His often experimental work has included the likes of Office Party, VIP, The Razzle and This Show Has No Name, in addition to character-driven comedy centred on creations such as country music singer Tina C and rapping pensioner Ida Barr. Said Green:

“When I started thinking about the show, my ideas kept resonating with my memories of Sarah’s book, The Little Stranger. Having been a fan of Sarah’s work since reading Tipping the Velvet, I was very keen to collaborate with her. Although this feels like such a new way of working for us both, it’s remarkable how smooth the creative process has been so far.  As long as the curse doesn’t kick in, we’ll be rocking, I reckon. I love to constantly surprise my audiences and The Frozen Scream will definitely do that, sending good old-fashioned chills up the spine!”

Both the Wales Millenium Centre’s Artistic Director Graeme Farrow and the Birmingham Hippodrome’s Creative Programme Director Paul Kaynes expressed their excitement to be presenting a production created by “world-class artists” and “writers of the highest calibre”. Said Farrow:

“It’s thrilling to be premiering this unique production…and to be able to offer an exciting, alternative form of Christmas entertainment for our audiences. I believe there is a great deal of synergy between Wales Millennium Centre and Birmingham Hippodrome, and I am hopeful that the present collaboration will help nurture a creative partnership that will see many more exciting collaborations.”Kaynes added, “Christopher Green  – already presenting Ida Barr’s Mash Up at our forthcoming Summer in Southside – and the award winning novelist Sarah Waters  is an extremely exciting creative combination providing an alternative evening out at the theatre over the Festive season.”

The Frozen Scream will be showing at the Wales Millennium Centre from Thursday 11th until Tuesday 20th December 2014, and at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Wednesday 7th until Saturday 17th January 2015. Audiences are asked to come prepared, wear sensible shoes and, perhaps most importantly, to ‘beware the ice’!

For more information on the show, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Photo of Sarah Waters by annie_c_2 via Flickr, used under Creative Commons Licence 2.0.