The rain might have been lashing down on a cold autumn night outside but it was the sun drenched terrace of a Greek Hotel where we were going to spend the evening. As we watch the arrival of a group of English holiday makers declaring their intentions for a few days of sun, sea, sand and…whatever, we are soon made aware that, although they may have left the dark clouds behind at home, their emotional weather is very much with them.
This play focuses on the same small group of people any one of us might meet on a package holiday, each of them forlornly hoping for some kind of up-turn in their romantic prospects. The narrative mechanism is simple, just people out of their normal element reflecting on their lot and perhaps reaching some kind of resolution. It’s a bit like being on holiday as we experience this piece in much the same way we ‘people watch’ others as they sit at neighbouring tables, we derive a guilty pleasure as we secretly observe their private dramas.
Although this is a comedy drama there are subtle layers to it. The laughs are all there on the surface, but there is real pain underneath as each character struggles with their feelings of hurt, loss, bitterness or disappointment. Sue Wilding is a new writer involved with the Cresta Players in Scarborough and in this piece she has created something comparable with the earlier improvisational works of Mike Leigh.
David Hudson’s direction has allowed the more subtle themes to emerge whilst keeping the pace and humour simmering nicely. Some of the laughs were wisely played down allowing the actors space to reveal a hint of the emptiness within their characters’ lives.
“Ice is Slowly Melting” is an ensemble piece and the cast each deserve praise for the quality of character development and, thankfully, the avoidance of stereotypes. Despite its jolly holiday premise this certainly isn’t a comedy of obvious humour, smutty postcards, Carry On films and the like. It does have its moments however, one scene, a wine soaked conversation on the moonlit terrace where life, love and loyalty are discussed with the gravity that only truly drunk people can muster, was intoxicatingly funny and totally rooted in a reality that many of us would recognise.
Austin Barnett plays Ben a cool but unassuming younger man on a first holiday with his girlfriend Debbie (Michele Berry) a hyperactive aerobics instructor with an eye for the superficial and the intention of moulding Ben into the image of her former boyfriend.
An extended family arrive in the form of Mark and Gillian (Andy Love and Ruth Batty) He a bloke’s bloke full of bluff humour and a tendency to divulge a little too much information about their arid sex life. She, shrewish and insecure chucking recriminations at him at every turn. They have brought along her parents to look after their two (unseen) children. Dorothy, Gillian’s mother is, on first meeting, all tea and sympathy and homespun advice, a simple but cloyingly irritating woman. But Sheila Barnett’s detailed and finely observed performance reveals a warm and intelligent woman who, unlike any of the other protagonists, has found a way to live her life and be happy with her lot. Reg, her husband (Ron Jevons), is a sound study in grumpy good natured wisdom.
Tension is created when a single woman joins the party, Paula, dreamily lamenting a lost love. At first hovers on the edge of things. Later she circles the group with a predatory glint in her eye, a glacial performance by Brenda Sanger the nature of her threat is never in doubt, at least to the female members of the cast.
Add to the mix Phil (Robin Sanger) and his preoccupation with making a video film for some tacky holiday reality TV show and his long suffering wife Jacky. Phil’s boisterousness veils a world of hurt stemming from his relationship with his mother who was nursed until her death by Jacky. Jacky is still grieving, both for Phil’s mother and for the precious role she occupied when someone actually needed her. A touchingly wistful portrayal by Geraldine Jevons. Well done also to Roz Love in the role of waitress who, unacknowledged by this self absorbed group, silently attends to their needs.
As the play opened we heard part of a radio news bulletin about a holiday tragedy, we don’t find out until the end how this impacts on our little group of holiday makers but it framed the play and served to illustrate the fragility of existence and emphasise the poignancy of this brief glimpse into the lives of ordinary people wrestling with the universal concerns of love and happiness. As I drove home through the rainy night I felt quite warm towards this play, it has its own quiet moral centre that reminds you that life isn’t always a holiday and that you should enjoy your time in the sun while you can.
Steve Wilcox 25 October 2006