Actress Chizzy Akudolu returns to old stomping ground as she stars in play at Stratford’s Theatre Royal
PUBLISHED: 17:00 09 March 2020
Frantic Assembly’ latest production, I Think We Are Alone, is on at Stratford’s Theatre Royal.
The play, written by Sally Abbott and co-directed by Kathy Burke and Scott Graham, centres on three separate storylines underpinned by the same human need for love.
Mother and son Josie and Manny, sisters Clare and Ange and married couple Graham and Bex each face tribulation, as their relationships are tested by life's most difficult situations.
The Stratford East is one of several stops on a whistle-stop tour, but for one star, it holds extra significance.
Actress Chizzy Akudolu, who plays Josie in the production, made her professional debut at the theatre.
Chizzy, who lived in Newham for several years, credits the theatre as where she "fell in love" with performing. She also opened its new green room last year.
She returns with distinction in this production, despite being plagued by a cold.
Though under the weather, Chizzy is in good spirits as she discusses her homecoming: "I expect the loudest reaction in Stratford. We're a small cast and we all rely on each other. It's a good pressure."
This reliance is in evidence throughout; the production uses wheeled panels as a prop, choreographed by the cast to create different backdrops.
This offers the compelling visual of a cast working together despite differing storylines, as a bridge becomes a bed, which then becomes a living room wall.
It's a clever tool which emphasises the idea that these characters will all become connected in some way.
Josie is first seen welcoming her son Manny back from Cambridge.
Recently bereaved by losing both her father and dog Queenie, Josie compensates by throwing everything into Manny's return, proudly reeling off his achievements.
It's clear that Manny feels differently about his status as a Cambridge student, with this the catalyst for discord between the two.
Manny considers himself an outsider burdened by imposter syndrome. Josie celebrates that status, bullish in the view that Manny deserves to sit with the elite.
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According to Chizzy, Josie is "the most serious character I have played"; though Josie is a maudlin matriarch, Chizzy applies her customary humour through a combination of witty dialogue and priceless facial expressions.
The mother-son relationship is rocked by Manny's admission that he wants to leave Cambridge — after they argue an angry Josie gets in Graham's cab, leading to interaction with the other characters.
She softens upon realising that Graham is also grieving, with both actors moving in how they portray the importance of kindness.
Josie offers Graham a safe space in which to grieve for late wife Bex, while in return Graham brings Josie a wire so that she can hear the words of her late father (recorded on tape).
The chance collision between wounded characters happens more than once. In another scene, Ange is drowning her sorrows over her relationship with sister Clare.
She almost has sex with Manny, only for the mood to be dampened by a combination of Ange's outpourings and Manny's untimely mentions of his mum.
This scene is meant as little more than a fleeting interaction, but Josie and Graham's arc shows signs of a lasting friendship.
The production consistently balances sensitivity and humour, particularly with emotion.
Josie and Graham hug, but only until the former breaks it up for lasting too long. Clare and Ange reconcile, only for the latter to retreat because Clare now wants to be best friends.
This feels typical of stoical Britain, and the cast play it brilliantly.
Also true to real life is how the play ends; imperfectly. Each character remains flawed, as does each relationship.
But the audience is buoyed by the progress made — Josie is now allowing Manny to determine his own fate, Clare and Ange have begun to repair a relationship damaged by childhood trauma, and Graham is allowing himself to grieve properly.
The cast all deserve immense credit for their role in a demanding production, compounded by the rigours of touring.
Chizzy laughs that her sole demand for tour is "my own en-suite bathroom". Though enjoying life on the road, the Londoner is relieved to be on home turf for now, mainly because of her cat Bootsy.
This production attracted Chizzy because of the high calibre production team. She wants to do a Netflix series next and says, "my agent is on it".
Should the powers that be see her in this production, her agent may not have to be.
The show runs at the theatre in Gerry Raffles Square until March 21.