Frantic Assembly at 25: Interview with I Think We Are Alone's Chizzy Akudolu and Polly Frame

Both star in Sally Abbott’s new play ”I Think We Are Alone”, produced in Frantic Assembly’s 25th year

Chizzy Akudolu and Caleb Roberts in rehearsals for I Think We Are Alone
Chizzy Akudolu and Caleb Roberts in rehearsals for I Think We Are Alone
© Tristram Kenton

Over the last 25 years, Frantic Assembly have established a reputation as one of the UK's most thrilling and uncompromising theatre companies. Co-founded in 1994 by artistic director Scott Graham, Frantic's process aims to "take people past their perceived limitations" and place movement at the heart of the company's productions.

In their milestone year, Sally Abbott's new play I Think We Are Alone will be co-directed by Graham and Kathy Burke, whose success as a writer, actor and director spans numerous decades. We spoke with cast members Chizzy Akudolu and Polly Frame about what it is like to work on a Frantic production and their hopes for the upcoming play. I Think We Are Alone opens at the Theatre Royal Plymouth on 3 to 8 February before touring the UK until 16 May

What is the play about and how have rehearsals been going?

Chizzy Akudolu: I Think We Are Alone is about loneliness and the need to connect. It's a very poignant piece, emotional and funny in places, and we are really getting our teeth stuck into it now.

Polly Frame: One of the great challenges is that it's a difficult play to stage. There are slices of life the characters share but some don't interact with each other at all. We had to think about creating different worlds for them with a very particular physical language and a set that is non-naturalistic.

Were you aware of Frantic Assembly's 25th anniversary when you became involved?

PF: I worked with Frantic last summer on a show called Sometimes Thinking, which we performed at Latitude Festival and the National's River Stage, so I was aware the 25th anniversary was coming up. Once I had that taste of Frantic, I knew I wanted to collaborate again. I have always wanted to work with Kathy Burke as well, she has been a heroine of mine so for me it was the perfect opportunity.

Polly Frame in rehearsals for I Think We Are Alone
Polly Frame in rehearsals for I Think We Are Alone
© Tristram Kenton

How would you characterise Frantic's process?

PF: From my experience, this is different from a traditional Frantic show because it is a co-production with Kathy. There are two different disciplines in the room because Frantic approach everything from a physical and spatial perspective, thinking about things we don't say but how we can instead speak with our bodies. On the other hand, Kathy is incredible at immediately understanding a text. These are two different disciplines but they weave together perfectly.

CA: I feel exactly the same in terms of marrying different disciplines. The physicality is kicking my butt at times I am not going to lie! I am tired but I am learning so much and developing what I can actually do onstage.

What type of activities have been pushing you?

CA: Sometimes at warm up we do this kind of boot camp and I am not fit in the slightest so that has been killing me! I used to dread it every morning but I now realise how important it is – I have come to appreciate warming up properly because it prepares me for the day. It can be really empowering as well. In one of the movement workshops, we did a thing where each person was lifted overhead by the group. I remember thinking ‘there's no way people are going to be able to lift me' but they did! I felt light as a feather.

Are you looking forward to touring the production?

PF: Touring can be hard and tiring but at the same time every different city will have a different reaction to what we present. London can be a brilliant place to perform but it can also be quite harsh and judgemental. When you take stories across the UK, it can be surprising how each community reacts. I'm really looking forward to performing in Edinburgh because that's my hometown.

CA: It is great to get the play out to the masses rather than it just be concentrated in London. We are going to Stratford East which is only a couple of train stops from my home, so I am really happy about that.

What are you hoping audiences take away from the play?

PF: The play is deceptively simple but will go straight to peoples' hearts. In every audience there will be someone that will find an amazing similarity in their own lives, or something that will encourage them to reach out.

CA: Life is short. If there is someone you need to speak to, that you haven't been in contact for a while then just do it. You don't know if you will be here tomorrow.