Many audience members will likely begin watching the Frantic Assembly production of I Think We Are Alone with high expectations. If they know the name, they’ll probably know the choreography group’s as a result of their astonishing work on shows such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. With Frantic Assembly, they normally like to do things big.
Yet in I Think We Are Alone, the movement is underwhelmingly stripped back to four slightly transparent screens which manoeuvre around the stage and give a very limited sense of environment. For a play about connections – from a nurse trying to reconnect with her sister, to a taxi driver who longs for conversation – the use of walls feels somewhat appropriate. However after more than two hours of drama, there’s only so much you can do with what look like four large pieces of Perspex.
With a lack of physicality, it falls to the characters in Sally Abbott’s script to capture our attention. It isn’t difficult, with all of them delivering monologues to the audience about their emotions. Ange (Charlotte Bate) is the aforementioned nurse in a hospice whose encounters with death prompts her to live a little by getting drunk in nightclubs. Clare (Polly Frame) is a thirty-something technophobe in HR and mother Josie (Chizzy Akudolu) just isn’t a fan of people.
Of course, for a show about people trying to come together, Akudolu’s performance as an anti-social Josie stands out the most, acting with a visible disgust for human interaction which is genuinely more hilarious than repulsive. While Clare’s commentary on smartphone usage is almost an immediate turn-off from her character (do we really need another character bemoaning the use of technology before proudly displaying a FitBit) and Ange’s work-life balance feels repetitive and two-dimensional, Josie’s demeanour feels a lot more genuine. Her disdain for people comes from a lack of love shown to her, and that as a concept is perhaps the most relatable. Credit should also be given to Andrew Turner’s cabbie Graham, whose portrayal as a lonesome individual shames us all for not talking more to friendly taxi drivers.
Josie’s character also benefits from having a second person to bounce off from fairly early on, in the form of son Manny (Caleb Roberts), a state-educated student currently in his second year at Cambridge University. His struggle to fit in a privileged, private-school social circle, and his mother’s pressure to force him to integrate, is an interesting premise for a parent-son relationship. With this being established from the outset, when revelations are made and stories start to interconnect, the conclusion of Josie’s story is the most impactful. Granted, other characters intertwine in the second act in a satisfying way and we see more of them as individuals, but it all feels too little, too late. Subject matters surface which are incredibly powerful, sensitive and tragic, yet I still felt too distant from them to share in those more emotional moments, their early monologues offering a window into their personalities, but not quite establishing them before we move onto the next person.
For a play all about connections, yet devoid of Frantic’s mesmerising and extravagant choreography, I Think We Are Alone struggles to keep us engaged.
I Think We’re Alone is now playing at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 21 March. It will then play at theatres in Leicester, Southampton, Guildford, Newcastle, Bristol, Oxford and Salford.
Production Images: Tristram Kenton.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch I Think We Are Alone for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review. All opinions stated are honest and my own.