Tricycle Theatre, London NW6
Opened 21 January, 1998

Is is tempting, in connection with the London opening of Ray Shell's Iced, to make something of the proximity of the theatre Kilburn's Tricycle to the road called Shoot Up Hill... tempting but inaccurate, since the protagonist of Shell's play smokes crack rather than shooting smack. Shell's adaptation of his own novel (first seen at Nottingham late last year and co-produced by the Black Theatre Co-Operative) tells, in flashback from a consultation with a criminal psychiatrist, the history of Cornelius Washington, Jr: former gifted child turned crack cocaine addict, murderer and, in effect, into someone quite unrecognisable at one point his sister refers to him merely as an inhuman being that inhabits her brother's body.

As Cornelius, Tyrone Huggins runs the full gamut from articulate polemicist (the "race thing" is raised for the first time within a couple of minutes of the play's opening) to filthy, twitching, cretinised heap, sometimes within the same scene. As he narrates his way through his life, the play's novelistic skeleton shows through at several points, most conspicuously when a set-piece from Cornelius is perfunctorily cued by psychiatrist Dr Dulight's terse remark, "Describe the high."  Nevertheless, there is some magnificent prose on display in such sequences: sheer, cold and snapping off like vast shards from the face of an iceberg. At least twice, after cleaning up for a period of months, Junior is seduced back into the thrall of the rock by tempters who glow with "Satan's light" the first, a drug counsellor who deliberately hooks him in order to obtain sex; the second, a fly-boy who chillingly sings "Amazing Grace" as Cornelius hunches once again over the glass pipe.

Gordon Case has the pick of the supporting roles as a trio of nemesis figures, including the aforementioned drug counsellor and Cornelius's old-fashioned "nigger" father, who continues to appear throughout the play as an accusing ghost-cum-hallucination. Carla Eve Amie's design blends hi-tech video backdrops (of which more could probably have been made) with elements of '70s "Blaxploitation" camp including a circular Dayglo leopardskin fun-fur bed. The detail of Felix Cross's direction extends to using shapeless "vampire zombie" addicts to clear the stage between scenes, as if ripping off the very fixtures of the set to sell for more rock. Iced is a remarkable piece of work.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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