“[Why no] Danish pastries at a convention attended by the Danish?”
The Arctic. Surrounded by seven of the world’s most prosperous and empire-building countries, and ripe for colonisation – if they can all agree on the best way to approach it. Breaking the Ice is set during The Arctic Council’s General Assembly 2016, where negotiations are to take place, and Frank, geologist and stand-in scientific advisor to the big dogs, is due to address the delegates upon the potential impacts of various courses of action. That’s if he manages to find his speech and get his suit dry-cleaned in time after spilling yogurt down it at breakfast.
From the opening few lines it’s clearly a comedy piece, with discussions into the lack of Danish pastries at a convention attended by the Danish and the merits of embossing on business cards, setting the tone somewhere between Dario Fo and Fawlty Towers. Steven McNicoll as Frank is a commanding and charismatic storyteller, and, dressed in a bath robe throughout (due to the yogurt debacle), can clearly be trusted to tell it as it is rather than giving any politico spin. He’s vulnerable, likeable, with a sense of being completely out of his depth but enjoying the ride anyway.
What’s disappointing though, is that as the play progresses (with kidnappings, arrests, and encounters with locals and lawyers), McNicoll’s tone and demeanour show very little variation or development, and by the time he finally gets to address the conference (late, and still in his bathrobe), he appears to be in no way affected by all that has gone before, approaching it as he would making a cup of tea. There is a distinct lack of build-up in tension towards the climax (which in itself fizzles into nothingness), meaning the whole thing feels a bit pointless.
That’s not to say the structure doesn’t facilitate a suspenseful build-up. Throughout his morning Frank encounters many different characters, all of whom have a different point of view on the conference and proposed developments, and all of whom try to persuade Frank to consider theirs when making his speech. It’s a great device to get these viewpoints across, but their rapidity, comic delivery and minimal effect on Frank make them seem like little more then neighbours passing comment about the Jones’s new car than individuals whose livelihoods are set to be deeply affected by the outcome of the conference. It doesn’t quite fit together.
McNicoll as Frank is certainly clear and engaging, if quite one-dimensional in his journey. Jimmy Chisholm is more impressive with his range of characters, creating strong contrasts to communicate the complexity of the situation, yet Nicola Roy’s more melodramatic style seems to be at odds with everything else on stage resulting in a bit of a mismatch in interpretation of the script and lack of consistency throughout.
While there are plentiful very witty lines, some of the dialogue seems quite forced in order to shoe-horn in the humour – in particular, a discussion into an environmental activist’s kidnapping prowess smacks of being thrown in for comic effect, given how little it adds to the overall piece. I spent much of this performance wishing they would just get on with it.
Ironically, Breaking the Ice does quite the opposite – merely skimming the surface of the debate into the economic and geological future of the Arctic, without ever prodding deep enough to build a strong connection with the issues to leave a lasting impression. Much like an iceberg, this production feels like there could be much more to it, but we’re not able to see it.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 4 October)
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