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

Solaris – The Lyceum, Edinburgh

Written by David Greig

Adapted from Stanislaw Lem’s novel

Directed by Matthew Lutton

Runs at The Royal Lyceum Theatre until October 5th

A living planet. Capable of rational thought, movement and decision. Universal discovery of a lifetime – or idealist lie to further one’s understanding of the unknown? David Greig’s Solaris adapts itself from the original 1968 novel by Stanislaw Lem, also borrowing, but standing apart from the 1972 cinematic masterpiece from Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. 

Examining the response to extraterrestrial life, a reflective piece on human isolation, David Greig’s (thankfully) gender-balanced cast stands aboard a spacecraft orbiting the titular Solaris. A planet of an endless ocean – yet there’s more. Solaris, perhaps unkindly, offers the crew gifts. Tokens at first, which distort themselves into something all too familiar. Recognisable phantoms sooner best forgotten, past loves and children. As the natures of scientific rigour fight against human desire, the crew find themselves sharing emotional vulnerability.

There isn’t a single scene which does not deserve to be captured, framed and proudly put on display. Hyemi Shin’s design captivates our attention from the opening. Furthering a cinematic motif, the tri-colour palette ebbs and hues across the distinctly clinical aesthetic. Monumentally triumphant, stage management must pride themselves in the seamless workings of Solaris. Capitalising on the cinematic ‘cuts’ over a traditional black-out, the pace of transition is impressive – holding off a tiring of the effect. 

This tantalising setting, through Matthew Lutton’s direction, divides itself through a richly rewarding make-up of staging and cinematic projection. With fewer gimmickry intentions than one may principally suspect, it’s in truth minimal in reliance on effects which do not overshadow stellar performances.

Chiefly that of Polly Frame, taking the role of psychologist Kris Kelvin. Her presence is accessible, easing audience preconceptions as they wrap their heads around the jargonish plot threads. Indeed, both Fode Simbo and Jade Ogugua’s doctors Snow and Sartorius bring different elements of morality to the concepts of ‘othering’ the vistor. Genuine, welcoming and offering levity – Simbo acts against the deteriorating sanity of Frame, maintaining a distinct element of that most dangerous trait: curiosity.

Gracing us through the medium of VHS is Hugo Weaving, who matches expectations – excelling those of a pre-recorded segment. His presence isn’t leant upon, his scenes an enhancing addition of flavourful exposition, without the reliance of heavy description.

Space encompasses the inevitability of isolation, the avoidance of one’s self-realisation, is futile. Greig takes a bold move in what he shapes from the original novel, honing the defiance in being alone, as the planet manifesting itself in human form. Psychologist Kris rips herself between the realms of human connection and scientific standards, drawn to the personification of her loneliness in Ray (Keegan Joyce). An energetic, attractive man from her past, a ghost of regret. In chasing this idealistic fantasy, Kris traps herself further in an addictive pursuit of false satisfaction.

Horror lurks principally in a tranquil yet unnerving underlying score, composed by sound designer Jethro Woodward. Straying from this psychological terror, a fear persists of allowing an excessive negative air to hang over Solaris. Humour is punchy, often natural, but permeates frequently, exceeding dread.

An infusion of stage and screen, David Greig champions sci-fi in a manner theatre rarely carries off. As alien as the narrative may reside, it couldn’t be further from human in construct. With a distinct beauty in design, both aural and visual, Solaris is a pinnacle of theatrical science fiction, and while it shy’s from the genre’s depths of horror, it redeems itself with a prevalent atmosphere.

Tickets available from The Lyceum: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/solaris

Production Photography: Mihaela Bodlovic