The blistering cold of the Arctic is a suitably atmospheric setting for Thin Ice, the latest offering from scribe Jonathan Young. This multifaceted thriller is set against the backdrop of the Second World War and proves to be a rich, ambitious piece of entertainment that will hold you captivated throughout.
Opening with the discovery of Austrian glaciologist Daniel Steinburg’s frozen body by young colleagues Laura and Richard, the show gradually chips away at the mystery of his death through a series of flashbacks. Unrequited love, political tensions, and the brute force of nature compete for running time as this increasingly busy play nears its climax.
There’s a palpably cinematic flavour to Thin Ice, the ferociously non sequential storytelling and crisp, evocative technical design set it apart from conventional theatre. Fortunately, Young’s taut script is so masterfully constructed that this rarely becomes as disorienting as the premise sounds. The fraught, tangled dynamic between the three characters is explored through a series of confrontations. These excellent scenes demonstrate the playwright’s laudable ability to write an intriguing relationship drama with emotional integrity in the midst of a plot that’s bursting at the seams.
It doesn’t hurt that Nick Underwood delivers a stunning performance as the aforementioned Professor Steinberg. His layered, nuanced portrayal of a man torn apart by conflict, both internal and external is fascinating to watch. Esther McAuley and Calum Witney are also great; both have a commanding stage presence and imbue their characters with a certain amount of pathos. Ultimately though, it’s Underwood who’s the star, and the tragic demise of this fusty academic is what will stay with you once the curtains close.
Unfortunately, there just isn’t time in this ninety minute piece for all the various plot strands to be given the attention they demand. A sub plot about colonised Inuits amounts to nothing, and Daniel’s obsession with ice, which you’re led to believe will be significant, is relegated to the second half. Consequently, Thin Ice is a play that you’ll leave feeling both satisfied and disappointed; whilst strikingly realised, it never quite lives up to its potential.