I Think We Are Alone – King's Theatre

Written by Sally Abbott

Co-directed by Kathy Burke & Scott Graham

Six people, with everything, yet nothing in common, skirt on the edges of one another’s lives – some of them perfect strangers, the occasional taxi ride all they may share. Others are family members – sisters who haven’t spoken in years. I Think We Are Alone is a poignant production on a longing reconnection with echoes of our lives. That no matter how hard we attempt to augment fragility – often it is this unexpected strength in admitting weakness which can be our saving grace.

Attempting to communicate the complexity of human sentiment is a difficult task, maintaining coherence, is more challenging. Being blunt – Abbott’s text will put some off. Indeed a significant amount may not find an attachment with the monologue driven narrative, which clunks, rather than clicks into motion.

However, if one is to connect with this bittersweet examination of the mortal condition, you may locate the depth of Abbott’s script. Our paradoxical need to remain steadfastly defiant, while drinking the poisonous needs we set out for others, preaching our disdain for social media, yet giving in to its infectious chirping. Frantic Assembly lay bare much of our hypocrisies this evening, though perhaps spreading their coverage thinly.

Humour, the first-line defence for uncomfortable situations is Abbott’s strength in the production’s arsenal – along with her brazen ability to string monologues which cut to the heart of the human condition. Additionally, Abbott captures our desire to reclaim a connection with the echoes of our pasts, to triumph over an eternal enemy; regret. Whether this is with the departed, siblings we haven’t communicated with, or more powerfully self-regret.

For each member of this resolute cast, they treat their story as an individual piece, only really tying them together in the second act. For Chizzy Akudolu this squarely lands her as the production’s strength in forging a connection with the audience, her natural delivery builds rapport and enhances the charisma she shares with Andrew Turner and son Manny (Caleb Roberts). Striking an additional accord with the audience is Charlotte Bate’s Ange, a young hospice carer and the estranged sister of Clare. An instant connection, hers is the instantly recognisable feature of Frantic Assembly’s 25-year career infusing movement with stage-work. Her physical movement, flowing as her form blasts against Paul Keogan’s lighting.

Edinburgh’s Polly Frame finds herself an (arguably) beating heart of this narrative. Her gradual descent, with a sudden plunge, is all too relatable in the desperate signs often ignored. As too, is the brief but appreciated relationship between Turner’s Graham & wife Bex, played by Simone Saunders. With minimal stage-time, Saunders leaves an impact on her development and macabre twists of comedy, but there’s still more there to explore.

And this might be the key drawback for some, that just as you attach with a role, it’s viciously ripped away – the connection severing slightly. Abbott’s decision with the script is a bold one in areas, reliant on an engaging cast to ensure audience attention. Luckily, under the co-direction from Kathy Burke and Scott Graham, this cast ensures a dedicated level of intrigue into Abbott’s growing narrative, leaving just enough threads to tantalise, if tripping a few audience members.

As these threads begin to weave together in the production’s closing, they occasionally tidy too neatly, too BBCish for our liking, but there is an interesting resolution of sorts for the two sisters. Which leads to a few choices words and moments completely subverting the outcome one may expect, throwing up a final barrier between the two, and a sure sign of talented writing in its own right.

Re-enforcing these barriers, Morgan Large’s transparent, clinical set design serves as an elaborate board for the cast to manoeuvre around. Fluid choreographed, I Think We Are Alone communicates its emotional narrative transitions with movement, the wheeled-barriers ensnaring characters, doubling as suicide jump-spots, beds and on a metaphorical level, rise and fall as characters bonds grow or collapse.

Shackling ourselves to a chain of memories, desperate to move on, self-destructively we hold the key to the very locks which restrain us. Polarizing, I Think We Are Alone will divide audiences, which suspicions arise maybe part of Abbott’s goal. Just as we often refute our regrets and failures, so too can we look beyond our resolute ambivalence to catch a glimpse of a tenderness which, if allowed, can shatter barriers and gracefully warm predispositions.

I Think We Are Alone runs at The King’s Theatre until Feb 22nd. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/i-think-we-are-alone

Trojan Horse – Traverse Theare

Written by Helen Monks & Matt Woodhead

Directed by Matt Woodhead

Re-writing history is a debate worth extending, clarification, however, is a necessity – particularly when evidence comes to light which demonstrates political obsession to pervert the public opinion, using education as a vulnerable tool to stoke hatred. In 2014, Trojan Horse was the term thrown around for the ‘reports’ of the radical promotion of Islamist propaganda in three of Birmingham’s high-performing schools. LUNG theatre, in association with Leeds Playhouse, taps our shoulder to gently remind us that fake news is old news and that we still haven’t caught on to government’s brand of scape-goating propaganda.

Intense, Trojan Horse has little time in handholding the audience through the too-recent history for Muslim families, teachers and students within British communities. Translating over two-hundred hours of interviews, numerous public documents and accounts of public hearings into an attention-grabbing full-length production are far from an easy task. Across the classroom and whirling to the courts, the trials and secrets of those involved are looked at through an artistic lens, with a dose of healthy humour thrown in. 

Who can blame them at pop-shots at Michael Gove, former Secretary of State for Education? There’s quite a queue. At the heart of it all is a vendetta, a pursuit of truth and opportunity to expand on what has been a headline led story. Restraining overflowing aggression, Trojan Horse reflects on the events of 2014 through playfulness, brief movement direction and storytelling mechanics, rippled with fact. While appealing to our displeasure in the treatment of Muslim teachers in the community, it avoids pandering and leaping on the all too easy option of offence. The key strength of Trojan Horse is that it doesn’t feel the need to exaggerate or lie.

Infusing a school construct in design, Rana Fadavi’s set is clean, five wheeled desks serving as a variety of locations. The production is keen to promote those listening in Urdu, the video projection of Will Monk’s blackboard aiding with the production’s accessibility and breaks up the ‘chapters’. Detracting momentarily, the projection is occasionally over-used, bloating the stage when the performances and writing are considerable enough to hold attention without flashing text.

For really, as tight as Monks & Woodhead’s script is, it is the cast and Woodhead’s direction which compact Trojan Horse’s emotion into a direct pin-point assault. This is the form of production where emotional outrage, while justified, could easily tip the scale, but a balance is achieved. Points are put across by characters in an assortment of means, taking on multiple roles as students, teachers, parents and the occasional version of real0life councillors or committee members involved, particularly Komal Amin and Qasim Mahmood for their accents, physical transformation and capability of conveying class-attitude with minor touches.

Then Mustafa Chaudhry offers a solidifying moment for Trojan Horse, a point of humanity which tests the audience. Refraining from hushing a character’s thought on LGBTQI+ communities, Chaudhry controls the audience to still connect with the role, even if the revelation of his intolerance would otherwise remove our sympathy. It’s a testament to the writing, and the relationship Woodhead has with his cast, but it speaks especially of Chaudhry’s talent. 

The manipulation of media is nothing new, but the indoctrination of division within small family communities has been a growing concern. Monks & Woodhead demonstrate that the tactic is a readily used one, it’s only now the tactics are becoming apparent, no sense of fear or punishment for those perpetrating, but with catastrophic changes for those in the firing line.

Photo credit – Ant Robling

Preview: Dead Good – The Studio

Dead Good is set to open in Edinburgh on February 13th at The Studio, Festival Theatre. Playing for two nights at 19.30pm before touring further. Tickets can be found at:https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/dead-good

Abstracts and quotations taken from syndicated interview by Diane Parkes

Death is just around the corner, so why not go in style? Or at the very least, throw a few punches first. Despite the inevitability, we never discuss death – who can blame us? Vamos Theatre, however, envisions Dead Good as an accessible way of prying open the door to open discussion.

We start our story at the end of theirs; told that they are dying, Bob and Bernard embark on one last grand adventure, living every ounce of time they have left to the fullest. The two men come to realise the values of life, love and wealth friendship can offer. Marrying tragedy with the mask of comedy, writer & artistic director Rachael Savage wants: “to demystify death and take the fear out of it” while incorporating a thirst for life and appreciation of humour. 

There is one thing our attitudes towards mortality can be truly harvested for – laughs. It’s a fact that artistic producers are capable of finding the fun in funeral, Savage seeking to entertain as much as she wishes to leave audiences with discussion as well as memories;

“I think people expect to go away from one of our shows having laughed and cried and with something to think about” 

In collaboration with palliative care patients and specialists, Dead Good continues Vamos Theatre’s dedication to creating theatre encompassing under-represented groups, Savage stating:

I give people a voice who often don’t have one, so our shows have to be about things that I am passionate about and that I want to make people think differently about.

As part of their research, for 18 months, Vamos Theatre gained first-hand experiences and opinions on the subject of mortality, and the attitudes surrounding this to capture authenticity. Further, the buzz and determination behind the production secure an understanding that those behind Dead Good have created the piece with solid intentions.

Due to the production’s nature of mask use, the communication method of the show welcomes anyone, being fully accessible to deaf audiences without a signer.

Aron De Casmaker, a Canadian clown performer who honed his skills with Cirque du Soleil plays Bob. Ringing the delicate matter of death to the nation, and is certainly one to catch for its two-night stay in Edinburgh. De Casmaker reinforcing his interest and passion for the project;

I’m really excited about this project. The idea of finding the lightness in dark material really attracts me to the theatre and in this show we are hitting a very realistic view of death head-on and then finding the joy and the lightness that comes from that

Set to deliver on tears of laughter, and a few shed out of inspiration, Dead Good has received positive coverage for its tackling of a hushed subject, with Tammy Gooding of BBC Hereford & Worchester awarding the production five stars, advising audiences to bring tissues.

Dead Good opens at The Festival Theatre – The Studio on February 13th at 19.30pm. Tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/dead-good

Full touring dates can be found at Vamos Theatre at: https://www.vamostheatre.co.uk/shows/show/dead-good#diary