Scott Graham on I Think We Are Alone: 'This show is not an assault on social media but inspired by its promise of greater connection'
- Gareth K Vile
- 13 February 2020
Frantic Assembly celebrate their 25th anniversary with an uplifting play about the challenges and opportunities of social media
Co-directed by Scott Graham, founder of Frantic Assembly, the company who were instrumental in forming a very British notion of physical theatre and TV and film's Kathy Burke, I Think We Are Alone is a new play that dives into the challenges and opportunities of social media. Two estranged sisters (Charlotte Bate and Polly Frame) find that text messaging is only driving them further apart, a mother (Chizzy Akudolu) battles grief and maternal anxiety, and Graham (Andrew Turner) visits darker places only to find, in kindness, a possible solution to loneliness.
'For me this was more about our desire for intimacy and connection and how we are offered greater opportunity to connect,' says Scott Graham. 'I wondered how much social media was delivering, given that we tend to curate an image of ourselves. I wondered if that image might hinder connection. We give people an impression of our lives and that might get in the way.'
Despite having been at the forefront of British theatre for 25 years, Graham's Frantic Assembly retains a dynamic edge that encompasses both formal experimentation and contemporary worries. By working with Burke and playwright Sally Abbott, the company consciously incorporates new voices and continues their collaborative aesthetic of adventure and imagination, while maintaining a core intention.
'Good theatre inspires an active audience,' Graham concludes. 'Their minds are rushing, creating connections and seeing beyond the veneer of a situation. Theatre is a social event and it can explore society's concerns but I think it must always be aware of becoming didactic. I am not interested in that.'
This vision goes back to Graham's earliest work, and the description of processes and practices revealed in the Frantic Assembly Book of Devising Theatre. 'I think my understanding of theatre was probably formed by the stuff I was taken to see at school (classics/safe/relevant to my English studies), the work of the Drama Society I had joined at University (dusty wigs/dusty plays taken down from the shelf and acted out) and the work of Volcano Theatre Company and the stuff they showed us (DV8 films). The latter was a revelation. I didn't know theatre could be like that. I didn't know it could be so visceral.'
From this inspiration came a series of productions that valued the script and language – 'Both Steven Hoggett and I had recently completed English degrees so it was never about devaluing the text but recognising the importance of the other theatrical elements as collaborators' – but also sought to integrate elements that were frequently marginalised. Graham's experience as a movement director reflected, at first, the limited imagination of much mainstream theatre but, as physical theatre became more established as a mainstream presence, the role evolved.
'Years ago, when I was doing movement direction on other, bigger projects, they would get you in to do a crowd scene or solve a moment of violence,' he recalls. 'While you were working the director would take other meetings. I think Frantic's work has shown that movement can be much more vital.'
By engaging with a contemporary matter like social media, Graham demonstrates how his belief in theatre encourages an awareness of its potential for serious – yet humorous – engagement with social change and challenges. 'I think theatre is an extremely broad church and the variety available might negate the phrase 'how theatre ought to be'. We have to be progressive and open to new challenges while always being mindful to retain what makes theatre distinct and special. Going back to those early days we identified that communion, that time spent together, exchanging energy. I think that is what is still special about theatre.'
The collaboration with Burke and Abbott also reveals Graham's interest in moving forward. 'I wanted to do something different with this show: I wanted to collaborate with a strong female voice and with my producer, Peter Holland, we came up with a list. Sally Abbott was on the list and I was intrigued by her as she primarily works in TV and that would bring a new angle. At the bottom of the list Peter had put Kathy Burke. I am a huge fan of hers and thought it would be great to meet her and just talk about ideas. We went to her house, had a chat with her, and on the way home I suggested that she might be a very interesting co-director on this project. We asked her and she said yes! As simple as that.'
While the relationship between form and content is at the heart of Frantic Assembly's approach – as with Scotland's Vanishing Point, who are producing a version of Metamorphoses, the rehearsal-room process is very much part of the creation, Graham states that the content of I Think We Are Alone is not just a hot take on modern miseries.
'We are equally interested in communication beyond the contemporary. We all might speak to our ancestors or lost loved ones occasionally. We might ache to have conversations with people who are on the other side of the world or just the other side of the door. This, of course, is nothing new and this show is not an assault on social media but it is partly inspired by its promise of greater connection. If anything, I think social media has given us a platform to speak but what we might have to get better at is listening. What I love about the human predicament is that, no matter where you place it, it remains timeless. We are still mostly driven by that need to connect.'
King's Theatre, Edinburgh, Tue 18–Sat 22 Feb, and touring