at Pleasance Courtyard, Monday 13th August 2012
Ninety minutes is a long time at Edinburgh. When most shows are between fifty and sixty minutes, sitting in a venue for a whole fifty per cent longer must be prepared for. That length of time must also stem from a necessity to delve deeper into a narrative, but unfortunately Thin Ice, written and directed by Jonathan Young, doesn’t quite do this; though the production is strong and the story intriguing, it can’t be helped thinking that just the same effect could be achieved with thirty minutes cut.
I applaud the ambition of Young and his team, not only technically (the production includes projection and high0calibre lighting and sound designs) but also artistically, for the narrative itself has many facets and explores multiple themes. During an expedition in Greenland in the late 1930s, Laura and her husband Richard find a man dead and frozen, who turns out to be their university professor whose history with the couple is extremely complicated.
It slowly becomes evident that Daniel (the German professor) was working in Greenland in order to prove his theories of glacial shift and build-up and that Laura and Richard joined him to assist. I like the idea that here is represented the beginnings of environmental sciences which led to discoveries about global warming more recently, and that this marked shift in glacial patterns happened in 1939, when humanity also witnessed monumental change, so it’s a shame this aspect isn’t exploited more. Instead, Young fashions what isn’t much more than a wartime love story set in the arctic, which doesn’t do much to challenge or evoke seeing as it’s a story we’ve seen many times before. I understand the necessity for an emotional heart to the narrative, but an audience doesn’t need to be condescended do and can understand more about the science in this than Young gives us credit for.
Nevertheless, the script is given a good hearing by strong performances and impressive tech (which become characters in themselves). Calum Witney’s Richard would be silly if he pushed the posh-boy accent up a notch, but he manages to stay just on the side of naturalism and is most impressive in his “debate” set-piece. Esther McAuley as Laura provides the real humanity in the piece, and finds herself in an extremely difficult situation, though her decision to marry Richard seems a little confused. As the socially awkward professor, Nick Underwood is equally confused, but here it manifests itself into something more productive as his quest to disseminate the truth eventually succeeds.
Dorothée Ruge’s traverse set design is more complicated than it looks, revealing new props and surprises throughout concealed in its many draws and shelves. On either end a white screen facilitates Will Duke’s video design, but though these projections are accomplished, it’s not easy to see what they add to the piece aside from providing a useful tool for translations when Richard speaks to local Eskimos. The startling lighting and sound, designed by Jack Knowles and Simon McCorry, is used to full effect and gives an impression of a vast, uncontrollable landscape.
Thin Ice is technically brilliant, and has clearly grown from some fascinating ideas, but it is clouded by too much going on, making it difficult to keep up. If the extraneous sections were cut so that the show ran at about an hour, I’ve a feeling the ideas represented would come through bolder and stronger, and that audiences would be able to engage more keenly with Young’s solid writing.