fitting, in the weeks running up to the latest Arctic Circle Assembly (running
from 7-9 October in Reykjavik, Iceland) that the team behind A Play, a Pie and
a Pint opted for a new work focused on human exploitation of the Arctic.
Instead of an issue-heavy drama, however, writer Kieran Lynn and director Tony
Cownie clearly believe that people are more likely to take in something when
they’re having a good time. The result is that
To describe Breaking the Ice as a fact-heavy farce unfortunately suggests it’s much less funny than it actually is
Such a heightened dramatic form doesn’t necessarily make life easy for the actors, however; Steven McNicoll, as Frank, has to gain both our sympathy and understanding during the initial few minutes of direct-to-audience “tell not show”—it works, of course, when you have an actor of McNicoll’s standing on stage, but it’s still a risky shortcut. Frank, we’re told, is a geologist and last minute replacement for the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office Chief Scientific Advisor. From the start there’s a sense he’s out of his depth; he’s still in his bathrobe, after having accidentally poured yogurt down his suit, and his speech—original draft left on the plane to Alaska—has yet to be re-written. A misguided expedition to find tea leads to a succession of encounters with local Alaskans—the burly shopkeeper desperate to see the local economy developed, an overly-keen green campaigner desperate to join the kidnap squad which snatches Frank off the street, the local sheriff, and the smooth PR woman clearly representing big business. Each offer him advice and suggestions about what he should say in his forthcoming speech at the international conference, although for most of the show it looks as if he’ll never get back to the conference in time.
To describe Breaking the Ice as a fact-heavy farce unfortunately suggests it’s much less funny than it actually is, although the comedic energy is in part due to the sterling support McNicoll receives from Jimmy Chisholm and Nicola Roy who play all the other characters. It helps that all three have all worked together before—most recently in the Royal Lyceum’s production of Thon Man Molière—so seem totally relaxed in each other’s presence. Nevertheless, there’s a lingering query as to whether or not the production would have been improved if they could have afforded a larger cast.
Lynn’s script is fast, funny and—to its credit—never sacrifices its serious intent for the sake of a quick laugh. The result is a comedy with something serious to say, but offering plenty of fun along the way to help the medicine go down.