Middle Ground Theatre Company celebrate their 25th birthday this year and in celebration offer a brand new work - a stage adaptation of Ellis Peters' popular Medieval murder mystery novels Cadfael.
BAFTA nominated Gareth Thomas (Blake's 7) takes on the iconic role of the Welsh Benedictine Monk - Brother Cadfael and presents us with a believable hero as he battles through harsh blizzards to uncover the mystery behind the girl frozen under ice.
In Shropshire, November 1139 the tide of civil war has swept over the city of Worcester and washed away many of its inhabitants, livestock, property and women. Those who could escape scurry for their lives northwards away from marauders to wherever there is a priory, walled town or castle strong enough for shelter. Among them, an orphaned boy and his sister accompanied by a nun - the ill fated Sister Hilaria. Cadfael spends the entirety of the lengthy play exploring Shropshire on horseback to piece the mystery together.
With no production shots as of yet, the images used above and below are from a location shoot that provided the play with video projection when scenes were more difficult to play out live. This perhaps confirms that The Virgin In The Ice is better suited as a novel and to screen rather than stage. Scenes ended rather abruptly and action switched instantly to somewhere else - providing there wasn't a set change. Hooded monks quite often wheeled trees on and off the stage (yes, trees on wheels) and a large wooden fort, although impressive in size required monks to hold back the curtains of the wings whilst it was tediously and noisily clamped into position.
The sets however were beautiful, designed by Michael Lunney (who also adapted and directed) and with a whole team of scenic artists it is clear that every effort had gone into the authenticity of the scenery and backdrops as well as the snow machines which worked well. The bespoke footwear and armoury is again an example of the creative team's dedicated effort. There are still a few teething problems with the show (currently in it's first week) such as sound effects that were left to run on into the next track playing over dialogue which was completely missed.
There were strong performances from of course Gareth Thomas (Brother Cadfael) - also George Telfer (Brother Eelyas), Paul Hassall (Hugh Beringer) and Daniel Murray (Yves Hugonin). Other performances may have perhaps been stronger had they not have been required to perform a slow motion sword fight which was less dramatic, more comical.
It's an interesting story, and given the circumstances of the play, I think it's hard to do better. With a few tweaks to the pace and perhaps a little more attention to the stage combat Cadfael - The Virgin In The Ice could be a solid piece of drama.
The world premiere performances continue at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 9th March. Tickets can be booked here.