So I’ll give the short story long. I liked it. I did. But I think I liked it in this descending order: The acting, the directing, the text.
Sally Abbott’s piece ‘I Think We Are Alone‘ is focused on those moments of discovery and connection in the otherwise dark hours of isolation that can be life, especially in a metropolitan city. Our necessity, by human nature, to seek community and resolution even if sometimes what we are seeking is what we need to escape from.
The play has three strands followed from six perspectives. There are two estranged sisters (Charlotte Bate & Polly Frame) whose need to meet, clear the air and talk about the events that happened when they were young girls, literally and metaphorically haunts them to the point of psychologically crippling their lives. Josie (Chizzy Akudolu) whose sole focus is on what is best for her son, Manny (Caleb Roberts), almost to the point of suffocation (but hey, black mommy syndrome, #whatsnew) because she does not want to get bogged down by the grief of losing loved ones. Taxi driver Graham (Andrew Turner) is being driven (all pun intended) to dark places by the loss of his wife Becks (Simone Saunders) and seeking solace in the life and noise of those who enter his cab.
Save for the acting, the first half of this production felt disjointed. It’s usual for plot twist reveals to be left closer to the end of a story to keep us wondering and guessing, however, this felt as if Abbott was worried we wouldn’t get it. So she leaves the audience breadcrumbs the size of loaves and then spray-painted them in neon green paint whilst blocking off any other interesting pathways with huge signs saying “TURN BACK DUMMY”. This play’s heart is in the second half, where it takes on these beautiful colours which reminded me of the novel, 5 People You Meet in Heaven (Mitch Alborn) and how random but ultimately important certain human interactions can be for changing your path and ultimately even, saving your life. It’s asking a lot of an audience to hope and wait for the amount of resolution and conclusion put at the end of I Think We Are Alone and not leave during the interval. It’s usually only people with religious faith that have that kind of tenacity, to see such a long time of questioning through to the end.
Gripe over, the acting was epically superb. Chizzy Akudolu stole the show as straight-talking, razor witted Josie, whose hard exterior clearly held the most, in my opinion, vulnerable character in the play. A woman desperate not to lose her son but equally desperate to ensure he excels beyond the circumstances of his birth. (Ok. No, I’m not done griping. Why oh why in this day and age are we still on the “single black mother struggling and so it’s a minor miracle her son gets into Cambridge” themes? This play had one or two stereotypical stories too many for me I must say).
The sisters (Bate and Frame) were also phenomenal but I really loved the tender-hearted Andrew Turner as Graham. I felt his story kept moving forward apace and it really was a well-written arc (I know, I just said something nice about the writing). It’s not everyone who can give this kind of character the sweet sadness Turner did, whilst keeping him funny and relatable. The direction (Kathy Burke, and Scott Graham) was interesting and intelligent but felt a bit, A-level drama. A lot of work was done with moving panels to change up the open “black box” space of the stage, sometimes too much. The piece would have benefited from more stillness and trusting in the audience to appreciate the story for what it was, as opposed to gas-lighting the heck out of the show for the sake of showing us what the tech capabilities on the Theatre Royal Stratford East stage were.
Ultimately I Think We Are Alone is a good piece worth seeing, but I do think it would have worked better in a smaller, more intimate venue where the options of so much shallow ornamentation were not afforded to the creative team. We would have all caught the bug of the story itself a bit better.
I Think We Are Alone runs at the Theatre Royal Stratford East until the 21st March. Find out more and book tickets here.