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Mark Shenton’s week: Frozen (no, not that one) arrives in the West End

The company of Disney's Frozen at Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo: Deen van Meer Caissie Levy as Elsa in Disney's Frozen at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photo: Deen van Meer
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Last week, not without some confusion and coincidence, two shows both bearing the title Frozen arrived in the West End and Broadway respectively.

Frozen review at Theatre Royal Haymarket, London – ‘struggles to fill the stage’

One is a 20-year-old play, first seen at Birmingham Repertory Theatre in 1998 and subsequently at the National Theatre in 2002 (where Anita Dobson gave a truly remarkable performance), that has now been revived at the West End’s Theatre Royal Haymarket. The other, of course, is the new stage musical version of the 2013 film that has begun previews on Broadway, with a creative team led by Brits Michael Grandage, directing, and designer Christopher Oram.

Read our interview with Frozen writer Bryony Lavery

In the latter, you will be assailed by one of the biggest ear worm hits to have ever come out of a Disney animated film, Let It Go (famously sung by Idina Menzel at the 2014 Oscars, where the song won that year’s award for best original song). And the identical phrase is coincidentally spoken in Lavery’s play. A mother, whose 10-year-old daughter Rhona went missing 20 years earlier, is told by her her 33-year-old daughter Ingrid, after her murderer is discovered, to: “Let it Go… like a bird into the wind.” This could be a lyric from the musical.

Closer to home, the Menier will follow its current production of Barnum with Kiss of the Spider Woman. Given the Menier’s reputation for musicals, plenty of people became excited that it would be a revival of Kander and Ebb’s musical that opened at the West End’s Shaftesbury Theatre in 1992 before going on to Broadway a year later. But no, it’s a play version of the same Manuel Puig novel. These days, it’s common to tag stage versions of well-known titles that are already known for other incarnations with their genre, hence Broadway currently has School of Rock the Musical and A Bronx Tale: The Musical. Perhaps the Menier needs to promote its next show as Kiss of the Spider Woman – Not the Musical.

Monica Dolan

Last week, I caught up with The B*easts, written and performed by the astonishing Monica Dolan. It is a ferocious and piercing examination of how children are in danger of growing up too fast and being sexualised too young.

The B*easts review at Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh – ‘intentionally challenging’

Now transferred to London’s Bush Theatre, it was first seen at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, where Dolan won The Stage Edinburgh Award for her performance. As The Stage reviews editor Natasha Tripney commented at the time: “Dolan performs The B*easts with devastating precision, landing each emotional note with skill. That it is her own debut play as a writer makes it doubly impressive. It’s a challenging, morally knotty piece and the poise, restraint and power she brings to the material is considerable.”

Dolan is one of those unsung hero actors: an actor beloved of other actors. When I interviewed Romola Garai for The Stage last year, she called Dolan, whom she’d worked with at the Royal Shakespeare Company, one of her biggest influences. “She has a deep and profound love of acting, she loves to do it and as a result is a very positive person to work with.”

I’ve loved her as a performer ever since her utterly remarkable Lady Macbeth for Out of Joint at the Arcola in 2004, opposite Danny Sapani in the title role. Directed by Max Stafford-Clark, the production was set in modern-day Africa and in his review for The Independent, Paul Taylor wrote: “Stafford-Clark merges aspects of Idi Amin with Macbeth. Once he’s murdered his way to the top, this warped product of colonialism discards African apparel in favour of black tie and kilts. In Monica Dolan’s slim and alarmingly focused Lady Macbeth, he has the kind of formidable white wife who now channels into him the will and drive she once gave to her job as an aid worker.”

It was absolutely unforgettable and so is her performance in her own play.

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