You know the conversations you have with your bestest fwiends? The ones – frequently over a bottle of wine – that start off on one topic, say, how it was that they ended up living in London, but via more winding deviations than a branch line of the British railway system end up taking in everything from Victorian plumbing conventions to nineties fashion trends. Finally, as the bottle’s nearly empty, without quite realising it you’re listening to how they were horribly dumped in a Tokyo bus station and that, really, is how they ended up in Hackney.
On Ice, written and performed by Suzanne Grotenhuis, is similar to those enjoyably circuitous chinwags with chums. Ostensibly, this is a show about how and why Grotenhuis came to purchase a sustainable ice rink with the money won at a Belgium theatre festival. But before she’s finished the first sentence, the script has slid wildly off course into a partial re-enactment of the opening scene of The Hobbit III, an explanation of breaking mechanisms on ice skates and the music once selected to be blasted into space.
The analogy with a wine-tinted ramble springs to mind partly because Grotenhuis’s open, welcoming demeanour makes you feel like you’ve known her for years. Starting at 2pm each day at Summerhall, the show carries with it an easy post-lunch feel. What could be nicer than starting the afternoon with a little light entertainment, old school sleight of hand and clowning around in a giant blow-up bumper ball? But the real magic trick of On Ice is that all this buoyant blabbering is the proverbial tip of the iceberg on show. Entirely in control of the story, but cleverly pretending not to be, Grotenhuis adds a growing collection of details – cardboard boxes containing the 19,475 items she owns; a trip to the Australian desert and existential doom in Ikea – that point toward an ending as delicate and sombre as a tiny ballerina spinning alone in a music box.
The unexpected tenderness of the conclusion – which also answers the original question of why she bought the ice rink – is increased by the fact it comes at the end of so much laughter and larking around. It’s a common enough thing to play the clown when you’re trying to hide pain, but Grotenhuis uses this behavioural trait to bring the audience together so that she can ultimately ask: what happens when we part?
On Ice is on at Summerhall until 27 August 2017 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. Click here for more details.