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Review: I Think We Are Alone (Theatre Royal Stratford East)

Frantic Assembly reaches 25 years and marks the occasion with this new production directed by Kathy Burke

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Caleb Roberts and Chizzy Akudolu in I Think We Are Alone
© Tristram Kenton

Frantic Assembly's 25 years have had nothing short of a seismic impact on British theatre. The company, overseen by Scott Graham, has been vital in reimagining the idea of movement and play – how the kinetic expressions of a body can run in tandem with a script and other creative elements.

It's a shame that less of this is on show in this new production, I Think We Are Alone, directed by Graham alongside performance stalwart Kathy Burke. Following a seemingly unconnected group of individuals who slowly knot their lives together, Sally Abbott's two-act play grounds itself in the gritty normality that washes over most of our innocuous lives, finding pinpricks of hope through a grey haze.

This is staged by designer Morgan Large with a series of semi-transparent giant flats that revolve and travel the length of the space, reconfiguring with every scene as a new character appears. Eventually, direct address dissolves into angst-ridden dialogue-heavy scenes, deep-diving into the back-stories and motivations of each of Abbott's figures as they come to terms with traumatising pasts and major losses. As you'd expect from the title, this is a show about absence – absent family members, robbed childhoods, consuming occupations, forsaken futures. Loneliness is rarely about simply being alone.

A lot of the time, Abbott's script stares into the face of mundane human existence and just finds even more mundanity: slow, slinking lives that are often surrounded by death. A few major plot twists – harrowing, seismic revelations that ripple through the show – unleash a torrent of new themes and ideas far too late and are never covered with the necessary amount of thoroughness or clarity.

Graham and Burke's production should unleash moments of kaleidoscopic emotion when it simply stutters with neutrality – Paul Keogan's washes are flat and bland, while Large's flats are clunky and wearing. Some moments stand out, especially Chizzy Akudolu's no-nonsense brilliance as Josie. Charlotte Bate, a stellar presence in Paines Plough's Roundabout season last summer, gives a terrifically captivating turn as hospice nurse Ange.

But it's all an undercharged exploration of modern life that could have soared with tear-jerking power. Sadly, a lot seems missing here.