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

Heroine – Traverse Theatre

Writer: Mary Jane Wells

Director: Susan Worsfold

At the heart of this production, a prime example of raw, honest theatre, is the life story of Danna Davis. Adapted in a brutal, purposeful way, Heroine hasn’t been crafted by writer and performer Mary Jane Wells as a sob story, nor a hate piece – it’s a profound amalgam of anger, outrage, fragility and survival.

Five stools, five spotlights – one story. Danna Davis, a woman serving in the United States military who must work, live and survive among those who have sexually assaulted her; those who threaten her life, and the lives of those she loves every day. More than this, it’s a story for anyone in the room, those at home and both Wells and Davis, ensuring silence is no longer an associate of perpetrators.

Written in a variety of fashions, Well’s production combines metaphorical lyricism with gritty, literal expression to demonstrate both the innate power of the human condition, as well as the fragility we all share. Rather than an extensive discussion of the sexual assault Davis experienced, a contained segment is all which is required, a lacerating depiction of the event, hushing what feels like the world for a few minutes as Well’s dedication and respect for the role speaks volumes. Cast in George Tarbuck’s lighting design, it’s a harrowing piece of beautiful theatre design, even as it uncovers the degeneracy and retaliation within our armed forces.

An assault on the senses, Matt Padden’s effective sound design is disorientating at times, though this is inherently the idea behind such design. Loud, invasive and immediate, the stark change of everyday noises into PTSD situations triggers the transformation which pushes Heroine beyond observational. It’s sensory theatre, quite possibly one of the few shows which would work equally as a radio or audio drama.

Remarkably personal, Well’s writing captures (we suspect) as close an account of Davis’ experience as possible. In a haunting way, it’s a beautifully written production – distressingly lyrical, wrapping such vile, grim reality in a vexing garb which, despite its subject matter, is funny, touching, engaging and in some morbid sense – comforting. Well’s performance conveys the process of grief, just as equally as the process of aggression and forgiveness, and in tandem with Susan Worsfold’s wonderfully simplistic, yet effective direction builds rapport with the audience quickly.

Perhaps a result of the heightened emotional nexus, Heroine finds itself an overflow of intense moments. Never detracting from the message, structurally it causes halts and wobbles in a production which otherwise is a pinnacle of honesty. With how rooted Well’s writing is in the life of another, and the experiences of so many, there’s little wonder that emotion bubbles over, occasionally taking Wells out of her role as Davis, throwing her off.

The fact we sit in 2020, with powerful productions such as Well’s still a necessity to offer a release, opening dialogue for those experiencing sexual assault and retaliation while serving in the armed forces, is beyond explanation, but it’s a story we need to hear. A story we must preserve, ensuring that for as long as sexual assaults within any workplace, especially those who defend our nations, continues, that there remain a stark reminder and avenue of exploration for all.

Review originally published for Reviewshub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/heroine-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/

Photo Credit: Greg Macvean

SIX – Festival Theatre

Written by Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss

Directed by Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage

History is widely written by men; no wonder we didn’t pay attention in school. Unless you have had the misfortune of a beheading or being pushed into a nunnery by your gout-suffering brut of a husband, Six is the concert musical sensation which rules the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, stormed the Westend and conquered Broadway. They may have been divorced, beheaded and died, but on stage, they thrive. 

A testament to the colossal power of a lucrative, stimulating idea and the influence of the Festival Fringe, Six descends on high to mingle with the common folk. This regal return for the wives of Henry VIII reminds us all that behind the man were six efficacious, prominent and notably individual women. All of whom deserve a damn-site more praise and attention than their historical footnotes.

Of course, the real question is: “who’s your favourite”? Which Queen deserves to lead the band, own her crown and step out from Henry’s broad shadow? Should it be the seductress Anne Boleyn; the woman who would give birth to Queen Elizabeth I? Or maybe, the Spanish mother, the O.G, Catherine of Aragon is the royal of your heart? Or could it just be those other women, the ones whose names sit on the edge of your tongue? Six has a primary concert premise, a seventy-five-minute run-time, but vivacious talent, legions of fans and a cast of undeniably skilled women befitting their crowns.  

So, roll up your Green Sleeves lords and ladies of the court, it’s a right royal rumble, for now at least. From the scintillating imagination of Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, Six pounds with a heart of musical theatre, but with the blood and teeth of a gig. Both Marlow and Mosses’ lyrical ability gifts the audience with ten unique numbers full of a rainbow of hilarity, affection, cattiness and fury. The vocals of the team, consisting of Lauren Drew, Maddison Bulleyment, Lauren Byrne, Shekinah McFarlane, Jodie Steele and Athena Collins has an intense, diverse range of tone, purpose and delivery.

There are raps, power ballads and break-out those glowsticks folks – we have club-house beats. It is though, Steele’s number ‘All You Wanna Do’ which has a lyricism and choreography that delves swiftly from raunchy into depraved, tormenting and a piece of artistic expression which holds context across centuries. In reverse, Haus of Holbein and Get Down shatter the glass ceiling, shake the Festival theatre and propel the audience into bursts of energetic movements, courtesy of McFarlane who channels enviable energy, a lust for life and pizazz which carries us into the shows second half.

In transitioning to the stage, minor adjustments have been taken to provide a sense of theatricality for the touring production. For those familiar with the Queen’s Fringe performances, the changes make a welcome addition, though in moments the crowns need a little polish. Chiefly, communicating pathos to the audience, emotion ramped up from a natural state, where the lyrics and vocals are equally capable of conveying the destructive abuse of histories obsession with sexualising these women.

Blasting concerns of the production occupying the venue space, Emma Bailey’s set design maintains its structure from previous years – evidence to how well-thought the original construction was. Playfully, the lighting design transforms concert dynamics, spotlights make the obvious appearance, but it is the neon, the bulb-lights and manner in which Tim Deiling’s lighting design knows precisely what temperature and shading will contrast, or indeed complement each number which heightens the show.

Before we go, before you even think we’re done; let’s mention Gabriella Slade’s costumes. Sharp stitching houses the essence of characterisation in glorious shades of attitude. It wouldn’t be a show about Queen’s, had their gowns not slain quite as mercilessly as their husband. Nor would they be anywhere without their ladies in waiting; Arlene McNaught, Vanessa Domonique, Frankie South and Kat Bax on instrumentals, McNaught also providing musical direction.

Lucy Moss & Toby Marlow have given a voice to the past, a voice which in-turn speaks for the future. Placing these icons of history in the spotlight, Six is more than a concert history lesson, it has a vaster depth than a feminist musical; Six is an example of the trials of passion, a coming together in the name of rejoice, not revenge and vitally, is a show worth losing your head over.

SIX runs at teh Festival theatre until February 9th. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/six-the-musical

Photo Credit: Johan Persson