Writer: Sally Abbott
Director: Kathy Burke and Scott Graham
Sally Abbott’s new play I Think We Are Alone is about the importance and power of the emotional bonds that can help us through life and the difficulty of keeping them intact.
The play deals with three families whose lives accidentally overlap and intertwine at times of loss. Mother Josie has just lost her father, but she won’t let that get in the way of supporting her son, Manny, at university. Taxi driver Graham is grief-stricken after the loss of his wife to cancer. Two sisters, Clare and Angela, have hardly spoken for years after a family trauma in childhood. Outwardly each tries to cope and ‘keep the show on the road’ but the cracks are appearing and the prospect of crises loom.
Abbott’s writing is light-hearted and humorous. Clearly, she loves writing humorous exchanges between characters, often in conflict and sometimes conciliatory. The exchanges between Manny (Caleb Roberts) and his indomitable mother, Josie (Chizzy Akudolu) are particularly entertaining as the single mother keeps the pressure on her young son to stay at university. Abbott even takes her humour to some very dark places, but successfully just stays on the right side of the line.
The main thread of the play is the relationship between sisters Clare (Polly Frame) and Angela (Charlotte Bate) and the initially unexplained childhood trauma left unresolved for 25 years. While the point is well made how their childhood trauma caused relationships problems in their adult lives, it seemed too incredible they left it this long to sound each other out.
Structurally, the play needs some thought. The first half established the three families and hinted at the difficulties mounting in their relationships. But it was unsatisfactorily meandering and by the interval, the connections not sufficiently made to really engage. While the whole mostly came together in the second half, there were still big questions on why the sisters hadn’t tried to reconcile earlier. Nevertheless, the point about the need in us all for those human connections that mean we feel loved and cared for is well made.
Andrew Turner (as taxi driver Graham) and Simone Saunders (Bex) complete the excellent cast. However, the star of the show is the set by Morgan Large, and lighting by Paul Keogan. Four large double-skinned, semi-opaque, full height ‘lightboxes’ are pushed around the stage on castors by the cast. Intertwining between, in front or behind actors these become the various homes, clubs or workplaces for the scenes. Ingenious illumination through the semi-transparent walls hint at malign shadows from the past or reveal the concealed anguish otherwise concealed from view and most dramatically, ultimately, literally trapping the survivors.
It is an intriguing attempt to portray the fall out of trauma on survivors and the need for honesty and kindness to help us move on. Abbott’s exchanges are humorously delightful. It might be too hard to say they are perhaps too light-hearted for the subject but they are certainly contradictory to the visual messages on stage. After a slightly disengaging long journey in the first half, the second part of the evening did bring some resolution but the timing of the sisters’ reconciliation was just a little too implausible to make the whole satisfactory.
Runs until 8 February 2020 | Image: Tristram Kenton