Writer: Sally Abbott
Director: Kathy Burke and Scott Graham
It’s not just good to talk, it’s essential, but maybe it’s a dying art in a world where more and more of our communication is done online. The importance of verbal, visual and physical contact is a defining theme of Frantic Assembly’s new production, which manages to be both modern and traditional, unsettling and uplifting, an appropriate collection of metaphors for how we live today.
The central story revolves around Ange and Clare, two sisters who haven’t spoken to each other for eight years but do communicate by text. The texts normally come at times they don’t want to receive them, the messages getting tangled up with whatever is happening in the rest of their lives. They’re also an excuse to avoid the real face to face conversation they need about what lies behind their refusal to see each other.
Other stories orbit around this, seemingly unconnected to each other. Josie has a son at Cambridge University who is finding out just what entitlement means and just how unentitled his background has made him. Josie herself is mourning the deaths of her dad and her dog, with the latter seeming to be the one whose absence is felt the most. Bex is getting counselling for cancer at the hospice where Ange works and Graham is a taxi driver, longing for people to talk to.
In the first act their stories are largely taken forward through monologues, each of them combining a reflection, social commentary and storytelling. Some work better than others, with Graham initially coming across as a bit of a straw man for a set of views rather than a real person, while in contrast, Josie’s story is told with wit and verve and Bex’s story has a fragile vulnerability hiding underneath a steely determination.
The second act is where all the strands come together, connections are made and resolutions start to emerge as problems are shared and conversations enter the equation. There are real moments of sadness, but they combine with hope and the promise of something better, as long as we’re prepared to let other people into our lives and not just onto our phones.
Morgan Large’s set design works perfectly to illustrate and complement the message, with the actors moving around and hiding behind heavy Perspex boxes that close in and open out as well as separating people from each other. It’s brought to particularly effective use at the end of the first act when the walls close in on Clare as she deals with a breakup and meltdown and a song that triggers off memories that inform her and Ange’s story in the second act.
The ensemble acting and direction by Kathy Burke and Scott Graham, alongside Sally Abbott’s script, means that there are no weak links and no character or story strands that seem like fillers. The transformation of Graham is particularly effective as he becomes three dimensional and is pivotal to some of the plays most poignant moments.
I Think We Are Alone is a play and production that makes you want to call family and friends and talk to strangers after you’ve seen it. It’s a great reminder of the value of the lost art of conversation.
Runs until 22 February then touring | Image: Tristram Kenton