Sexist, classist and pro-global warming: Frozen, at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, reviewed

18 September 2021

9:00 AM

18 September 2021

9:00 AM


Theatre Royal Drury Lane, booking until 26 June 2022

The Memory of Water

Hampstead Theatre, until 16 October

Frozen the musical declares war on woke politics. The 2013 Disney movie has been turned into a song-and-dance show that openly celebrates sexism, classism and misogyny. Plus, it salutes the joys of global warming. It’s set in a Scandinavian realm ruled by a kindly monarch who lives in a castle attended by fawning servants. No sign of social mobility here. An impetuous young princess, Anna, falls in love with an eligible duke, Hans, but their betrothal annoys Anna’s sister, Princess Elsa. This is dangerous because Elsa has magical powers that she can’t control. She accidentally casts a spell on Anna, who falls to the ground with a terrible illness.

Things get worse when a cold snap arrives from the north and plunges the entire kingdom into a new ice age. Elsa and her random magic spells are held responsible. The menfolk react by locking her up in the castle and forcing her to wear special gloves that neutralise her sorcery. The message is clear — powerful women are dangerous and need to be caged. Anna awakens from a coma and sets off on a trek through the wilderness where she befriends a comic snowman, an amiable tree surgeon and a melancholy reindeer.

The plot takes a swerve at this point and Anna learns that the ice age will end if she exchanges a kiss with her ‘true love’. But who could that be? Hans, the dashing prince? Or Kristoff, the nice but drippy tree surgeon? Or someone else entirely? The answer, when it comes, is superbly disguised, and the final embrace is a miracle of circus wizardry.

The show’s design and the visual effects are so dazzling that the crowd erupt into spontaneous cheers throughout. The story ends with the glaciers melting and the kingdom returning to normality in a good old-fashioned heatwave. This is a useful reminder to youngsters in the crowd that fluctuations in the Earth’s temperature are nothing to panic about. For children, the highlights of the show are the comedy snowman and the tragically silly reindeer with its large mournful eyes and long shaggy coat. The human characters are led by Samantha Barks (Elsa), who has a huge voice and a personality to match. She seems to have been spirited into the West End from a 1950s Hollywood classic. Somehow she combines the regal elegance of Grace Kelly with the full-blooded sexiness of Marilyn Monroe. If theatreland were a religion, she would be its new goddess. Commercially, the show is aimed at girls under ten who queue up outside the venue dressed as princesses with shiny frocks and tinkling plastic tiaras. How curious to watch them applauding the script’s sexist and discriminatory storylines.

If your daughters are a little older, perhaps in their early teens, they may prefer The Memory of Water which premièred at Hampstead in 1996. The show, expertly directed by Alice Hamilton, is a family comedy about three sisters who convene at their mother’s house following her death from Alzheimer’s. The action starts at nine in the morning and already the women are necking Jack Daniel’s from a bottle. ‘It’s a sedative,’ one explains. ‘It’s what normal people do in abnormal times.’ The sisters have completely different personalities. Catherine is a weed-smoking basket case who complains non-stop about her useless Spanish boyfriend. Teresa, the oldest, is struggling to run a business with her boring but reliable husband, Frank. The family sex bomb, Mary, is having a racy affair with a famous TV medic, Mike, who keeps promising to leave his wife and kids. Mike arrives during a snowstorm and climbs in through a window looking heroically dishevelled. ‘It’s like Wuthering Heights,’ sighs Catherine, instantly smitten. Mike’s arrival gives Mary a chance to offer him an ultimatum. ‘I’m pregnant,’ she announces. But Mike replies with a bombshell of his own: he had a vasectomy several years ago, so Mary’s unborn child must be the responsibility of another man.

The script by Shelagh Stephenson carries delicious echoes of Joe Orton and Carla Lane. Mary orders Catherine to switch off her mobile phone which rang constantly during their father’s funeral: ‘I’m surprised Dad didn’t burst out of his coffin and punch you.’ She recalls with distaste her mother’s colonic irrigation treatment: ‘Your colon is specifically designed to work independently, without recourse to a foot pump.’ In an ideal world this hilarious and heart-warming comedy would find its way into the West End with very little trouble. But the cast don’t have the right credentials. The lead role of Mary is played by the exquisite Laura Rogers who lists her TV work as ‘EastEnders (three episodes) and Holby City (semi-regular)’. Sadly, without a big star from Netflix, the West End isn’t financially viable even for a glorious comedy like this. Better see it at Hampstead.

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