‘I Think We Are Alone’ review

Theatre, Experimental
3 out of 5 stars
I Think We Are Alone, Theatre Royal Stratford East, 2020
Photograph: Tristram Kenton Polly Frame

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Frantic Assembly’s twenty-fifth-anniversary show is a sentimental tribute to the good people of London

If Richard Curtis had decided to make indie theatre instead of films, his output might well have looked a little like Sally Abbott’s ‘I Think We Are Alone’. Co-directed by Kathy Burke and Scott Graham, the sweetly sincere – but overly simplistic – play presents a patchwork quilt of London, each square filled with a character.

There’s the black mum from Lewisham who’s massively proud of her son for getting to Cambridge, but forgets to ask if her dreams make him as happy as they make her. There’s the white cabbie who recently lost his wife and just wants a passenger who will talk to him, even if it’s so he can tell them the slightly awkward story about the time ‘an Arab’ gave him a £250 tip. There’s the saintly cancer patient who prefers visualisation techniques and positive thinking to ever being angry about her condition. And, finally, there are the two estranged sisters, one working as a chipper hospice nurse and the other as an insomniac HR manager.

Swirled into the mix are constant reminders of death and loneliness. Both sisters seek release through getting wasted, one in a blaring techno club and the other at a smart-casual large-glass-of-Picpoul-de-Pinet bar. The Lewisham mother, Josie (played by a brilliant Chizzy Akudolu), talks openly about her dead dog, but can’t even start to process her dead dad.

But these people never become more than neat archetypes of different walks of life. Instead of watching a collection of complex, indefinable humans, we’re presented with a rather one-dimensional ‘oh the great melting pot!’ selection that never serves the individual characters as well as it could.

The same broad-strokes approach is also a failure of the staging. Programmed to celebrate the twenty-fifth birthday of Frantic Assembly, the physical theatre company co-founded by Graham, it uses the group’s instantly recognisable visual language of sweeping, sleek movements and tight-knit ensemble work. But it’s a watered-down version of what they do best. There are few pieces of truly impressive choreography or movement – a tangled bed-sheet moment of tortured non-sleep an exception – and often the Frantic Assembly-ness of it amounts to no more than a lot of moving large translucent box screens around the set.

And yet… like bloody Richard Curtis, it’s hard to dislike without feeling like the Grinch who stole theatre. It has a weepy ending, when people die and people fall in love and people make up and people hug for the first time. ‘God, what sentimental bollocks,’ you mutter, while attending to a very brief allergy attack. Sentimental bollocks which probably – probably – has a heart of gold.

By: Rosemary Waugh

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