The play The Frozen Deep has an important role in the life of Charles Dickens. It represents in part the inspiration for A Tale of Two Cities, one of Dickensís most successfully dramatized novels. Unfortunately it was also a catalyst for Dickensís marital difficulties, and the eventual breakup of his marriage to Catherine.
In 1856 Dickens urged his friend Wilkie Collins to write a play based on the life and tragic death of Sir John Franklin and Franklinís fellow explorers. Franklin was a distinguished naval hero, having fought at Copenhagen and with Nelson at Trafalgar. In 1845 he set sail with two ships and a crew of 129 officers and men in an effort to find the Northwest Passage. The expedition apparently became icebound, and perished from fatigue, hunger and the extreme cold. Dickens wrote a prologue for The Frozen Deep and collaborated to such an extent with Collins that it might be said that the finished play was a Collins-Dickens joint effort. In the play, Richard Wardour, played by Dickens, and Frank Aldersley, played by Collins, vie for the love of Clara Burnham, played by Dickensís daughter Mary. The play reaches its climax when Richard Wardour saves his rival Aldersley from death in ďThe Frozen DeepĒ, and restores him to Clara. Wardour dies as a result of his efforts to save Aldersley. This plot foreshadows the plot of A Tale of Two Cities, when Sydney Carton goes to the guillotine in place of Charles Darnay, who is restored to Lucie Manette.
The Frozen Deep was performed at the Tavistock House Theater on January 6th, 8th, 12th, and 14th. The playbill exhibited here is for the second performance on January 8th, 1857. Charles Dickens Jr., Alfred Dickens, Kate Dickens, and Dickensís sister-in-law, Georgina Hogarth, are also in the cast.