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James Haddrell (Frozen)

Greenwich Theatre's searing new production of Bryony Lavery's Frozen runs from 26th April until 19th May. The story follows a criminal psychologist who attempts to understand what drove an imprisoned killer to kill a child and the dramatic years that follow. We've taken the opportunity to speak to Greenwich Theatre's Artistic Director James Haddrell to tell us more.

Q) Before we begin, please could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about your background in theatre?

I actually started out in theatre marketing – I was the marketing manager at the (now closed) Warehouse Theatre in Croydon, before moving to Greenwich Theatre as press officer back in 2001. I moved up through marketing and executive director roles, becoming artistic director about ten years ago. I’ve also produced and directed as a freelancer, everything from new musicals and new plays to community Shakespeare, from public parks to national theatre tours and a staged reading at the Criterion Theatre in the West End. During COVID I co-wrote (with composer Chloe Bezer) and directed a couple of musical serial radio dramas for families, which were broadcast by Maritime Radio.

Q) Greenwich Theatre have recently signed a long lease with Greenwich Council - securing long term stability and confidence in creating exciting productions at Greenwich Theatre. Could you tell us a little bit more about your vision for Greenwich Theatre as Artistic Director?

Absolutely. I’ve always seen Greenwich Theatre as a venue with a dual identity, and one that I’ll continue to celebrate. The venue has a long history of in-house production, and the list of actors who have appeared at the theatre is incredible, from Rupert Everett (who made his London stage debut here) to Mia Farrow, Charles Dance, Michael Gambon, Mark Rylance and more. That should absolutely continue, but at the same time there is a shortage of mid-scale venues in London programming and supporting the work of theatre-makers from around the country. Greenwich has developed a strong reputation for showcasing some of the UK’s most exciting emerging artists, in either our 60 seat studio or our 400 seat main-house, and we will continue to offer those opportunities, so that London audiences get to see the work, and regional companies stand a chance of attracting the press, potential partners and stakeholders that are often concentrated in the capital. Finally, there will always be a strong strand, both in in-house and visiting shows, of productions for families. We have one of the best raked auditoria in London – a child can easily see the stage over an adult sat in front of them (how often can you say that in London?), so from our annual pantomime or the Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival, to a big musical summer show and a procession of touring family shows, there will always be something coming up for younger theatregoers in Greenwich.

Q) You are the director for Bryony Lavery’s Frozen which will be running at Greenwich Theatre from 26th April until 19th May. For those who are unfamiliar, please could you tell us more about this play?

This is an astonishing, scorching drama – a heartbreaking story about a mother whose ten year old daughter is abducted and murdered. The play follows her 20 year search to find out what happened, and the aftermath of the discovery when it finally comes, with the murderer arrested and imprisoned and a US psychiatrist flying to London to study him. The three characters are all drawn from life (though not from three lives that intersected as these do). The mother, Nancy, is inspired by the family members of Lucy Partington, one of Fred and Rosemary West’s victims. The murderer, Ralph, has roots in Robert Black, the serial child murderer from Scotland. The psychiatrist, Agnetha, is based on Dorothy Lewis, an amazing American academic who has interviewed some of the most violent serial killers on death row and who is regularly called upon to testify in major court cases in the US.

Q) Frozen has been hailed by The Independent as one of the 40 best plays of all time - what was it about Lavery’s writing that stood out for you?

I’ve loved this play for a long time. The writing is deceptively simple – three characters with alternating monologues which gradually start to interconnect. until the characters start interacting directly. The result is a growing sense of anticipation and foreboding that develops throughout the play, with three characters from the very extremes of society – a serial killer, the mother of a murdered child, a trailblazing psychiatrist who is as comfortable with Ted Bundy as she is with her academic colleagues. Their situations are extreme and yet they are each utterly believable at every stage. The play also allows the audience to discover links between the characters that you might not expect – the two women are united in grief but for very different reasons, they are both fiercely determined to ask questions but in different ways; all three characters have a very clear sense of right and wrong, though different in every case; they are all battling the damage that stress can cause, with very different results. Bryony Lavery has taken three characters that could easily become archetypes or clichés and made them real human beings that are, at times, painfully relatable, and at others, utterly incredible.

Q) This is a play that explores emotional and challenging themes - have you faced any challenges or learnt something new from directing this play?

Directing this play is the first time that I’ve struggled to leave the content of the production in the rehearsal room. I always end up working long hours on a show – in theatre it’s almost inevitable and we all love doing it – but the evenings or weekends for me tend to be logistical, working out things to do with the set or the lighting, or practical things like scheduling and marketing. This time though the research has been very impactful – for all of us. We’ve all been reading about Dorothy Lewis and the murderers that she studied, or Robert Black and the children he killed, or Fred and Rose West and their horrendous actions. I have young children myself, so the contents of the play have felt incredibly live for me outside the rehearsal room as well as in the throes of working out the scenes and interrogating the dialogue.

Q) How do you think audiences will resonate with this piece of theatre?

I think, more than anything, they will be surprised at how their views of the three characters evolve through the play. Is the mother always sympathetic or are there moments where you simply can’t go along with her actions or feelings? Is the murderer ever forgivable? Is the academic’s controversial view useful, or fundamentally amoral? Those kind of questions have certainly surprised us as we’ve moved from scene to scene. I defy anyone to watch this play and not have their commitment to their views, whatever they are, challenged at one point or another.

Q) How have you found the whole process of bringing Frozen to life so far?

I have loved it. I have wanted to tackle this play for years. Directing it now when I have young children has made it incredibly intense, but working on it with such a consummate cast has brought things out of the script that I could never have found. Kerrie Taylor (who has become a regular collaborator of mine, though will be best known for TV shows like Hollyoaks and The Bay), James Bradshaw (from Endeavour) and Indra Ové (Jerusalem, Sex Education) have all worked incredibly hard to honour their characters, and those real people who have inspired them. I’ve also loved staging something which is, at the same time, incredibly naturalistic in the way the performances are delivered, and (thanks to a brilliant rotating set by young designer Alex Millidge) utterly aware of its own theatricality. The performances are outstanding but there are going to be some visual images that I really hope will stay with people for a long time as well.

Q) What can audiences expect from Frozen and why do you think audiences should come along to see this production?

Frozen is a powerful drama that people will want to talk about for a long time after they see it. It doesn’t glamorise the serial killer, as so many books and films do, but it takes a very brave look at what makes him do what he does. It doesn’t prescribe the way that the bereaved should look upon killers, but it asks audiences to interrogate their own pre-conceptions. It is built on detailed research but this is not a lecture – it’s full of truth and challenging ideas, but at its heart it is a powerful piece of storytelling and a very clever piece of theatre. There aren’t many plays like it.

For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.

Photography by Lidia Crisafulli and Taylor Jay Productions


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