Since its inception 25 years ago, Frantic Assembly has blazed a trail as perhaps the most innovative and exciting physical theatre company in the UK. I saw their second-ever production, Generations Trilogy: Klub, at a small theatre in Dorset in the late 1990s and was blown away, by the high octane, contemporary and energetic production.
Now Frantic Assembly tours major theatres and attracts names like Kathy Burke – the co-director of this latest piece, I Think We Are Alone. Written by Sally Abbot, the script is gloriously funny. Filled with witty observations, there’s much attention to detail and lines offering a real gift to the actors, who do it full justice. But the downside is considerable predictability and well-worn themes that follow an obvious template. We meet our characters in a ‘talking heads’ format, with 60 minutes of act one made up almost exclusively of monologues (that perhaps outstay their welcome). As act two unfolds, we discover that these seemingly separate people are actually woven together through relationship or circumstance and the pace is able to pick up.
There’s little subtlety in the performances, but then this is a company that specialises in physicality – and innovative staging. A stark and simple set of identical moving frosted panels is used (along with clever lighting) to create many different environments: a hospice, nightclub, London flat, a taxi cab. The illusion is remarkable and engrossing. Not least when we’re transported to the softly lapping Thames by night, with the use of just some coloured gels and torches behind the panels. Frantic Assembly certainly knows how to create atmosphere.
Although having a role with less extreme drama than some other characters, it’s Caleb Roberts who puts in the most convincing acting performance of all. He plays Manny (a Cambridge undergraduate from Lewisham who experiences the effects of social injustice) with totally believable nuance, warmth and humour. It’s no surprise then, that within a few years of graduating drama school his CV already includes having played opposite McKellen’s Lear and a BBC drama directed by Stephen Frears.
There’s a sense that we’re missing a trick with this play, in the moments when the cast does have opportunity for more movement. This is what the company does so well, yet it’s limited in I Think We Are Alone. Nevertheless, it is a strong show. It’s also mildly thought-provoking, calling to question our increasing inability to communicate with each other, as we become more dependent on social media. And there’s a superb little twist just before the end, eliciting laughs and lightening a heavy moment, without minimising the message.
I Think We Are Alone runs until 21st February at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh