I Think We Are Alone

Sally Abbott
Frantic Assembly production with Theatre Royal Plymouth, co-produced by Curve
Theatre Royal Stratford East

Simone Saunders as Bex Credit: Tristram Kenton
Polly Frame as Clare, Caleb Roberts as Manny and Charlotte Bate as Angie Credit: Tristram Kenton
Caleb Roberts as Manny and Chizzy Akudolu as Josie Credit: Tristram Kenton
Andrew Turner as Graham Credit: Tristram Kenton

“Only connect”, to borrow E M Forster’s phrase, is the obvious message of Frantic Assembly’s 25th anniversary production. It opens with the company manoeuvring translucent rectangular boxes with inner lighting to isolate or trap its individual characters then presents each of them intercut in direct-to-audience monologues about themselves.

There is Josie, who tells us she likes animals more than humans. She misses Queenie, the rescue greyhound she got from Battersea who was put to sleep ten weeks ago. Her ashes are in the flowerpot Josie is holding. There is Ange, who works in a hospice. She thinks it is a gift to be with people when they are dying. Then there is Clare, a corporate woman in Human Resources who grew up in a haunted house. Later, we’ll learn that Ange and Clare are sisters but not on good terms. Then Josie is back, telling us about the garage where she works, followed by Graham, a recently widowed taxi driver with two small children, and then there is Josie’s son, Manny, who is in his second year at Cambridge, Trinity College.

As these lives begin to overlap, three story strands emerge. Josie (Chizzy Akudolu) could relate to the greyhound she’s mourning but never really understood her father. She centres her life on her son Manny (Caleb Roberts) who is unhappy at Trinity where, when trying to join privately educated students, they assumed he was a college servant.

Ange (Charlotte Bate), always busy at the hospice, seeks escape from work and the childhood ghost that dogs her by letting her hair down in noisy club nights, while sister Clare (Polly Frame) takes to the bottle too, losing both her boyfriend and her job.

Graham (Andrew Turner) just longs for a passenger he can talk to. He can’t handle the loss of his wife, Bex (Simone Saunders), whom we see in flashback in Ange’s hospice handling cancer in her own way, but he is driven near to suicide.

Sally Abbot’s play is a touching presentation of the need for communication and understanding and Kathy Burke and Scott Graham’s production presents its themes very clearly, drawing strong performances from all the cast. The complex choreography of Morgan Large’s scenery and the effects of Paul Keogan’s lighting are intriguing and a reminder of the physicality associated with Frantic Assembly. They allow time for reflection but sometimes their movement slows things down too much.

Loneliness, grief and facing death are all sensitively handled in the glimpses I Think We Are Alone gives into other lives, aspects of which we too experience. There’s a wry smile when we hear the truth about Clare’s haunting. Bex has such a positive spirit that it is easy to understand the hole she has left in Graham’s life and there’s a delightful sequence when Ange stands telling her story without pause as people rush in, handing her things to deal with, but the relationships between Josie and Mannie and Josie’s father are developed a little more deeply and get the richest performances—real human beings in a set that blurs what we see through it. We need to look and take notice as well as listen and communicate.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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