Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Scott Graham: I Think We Are Alone

By | Published on Friday 19 November 2021

As you will all be aware, many shows had tours and runs cut short over the last couple of years because of that pesky global pandemic we have been going through. One such production – ‘I Think We Are Alone’ by Sally Abbott – is the work of the acclaimed and brilliant Frantic Assembly, who have been producing amazing work since the mid nineties.

There were no doubt many disappointed audience members when the company’s tour of this show was cut short, but the good news is that, this week, they – and others of course – will be able to access a digital version of the play.

To find out more about the show, and about its creators, I spoke to Frantic Assembly Artistic Director, and director of ‘I Think We Are Alone’, Scott Graham.

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘I Think We Are Alone’ is all about? What story does it tell?
SG: ‘I Think We Are Alone’ is about how we yearn for connection but often alienate the ones we ache for. We can suffocate. We can dominate. I love exploring the clumsy, flawed personalities that we are. Each of the characters is trying to work out how to live with their loved ones, how to give space and how to connect.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
SG: I started from a single word, ‘intimacy’. I was fascinated by what that word meant to different people, what it felt like and how we navigate each other’s needs. Sally has taken it to a place where she is exploring family tensions and how trauma haunts us. The idea of haunting, both good and bad, is a big part of the show.

CM: Can you tell us a bit more about the playwright Sally Abbot and how the company came to be producing her work?
SG: I was interested in working with a writer in a different way, so I was looking at different types of writers. Sally works mostly in television and I was very interested in what sensibilities she might bring from that perspective. She writes lovely natural dialogue but crafts and structures in a way that television demands. This was really interesting to see.

CM: Can you tell us about the cast of the play?
SG: We created this version of the show in two weeks, which is a ridiculously small amount of time. The cast were extraordinary in their commitment, generosity and support for each other and all elements that go into the show. And then they deliver these exquisite performances!

Of course, this was at a time when many had been out of work due to the pandemic. Several had to take different jobs to support their families and must have been wondering if they would ever be able to return to their careers. To return and hit the ground running like that, with all the sensitivity and dynamism they brought to the intense rehearsal… I thought they were extraordinary and made the process a pleasure.

CM: Who else has been involved in the play? Can you tell us a bit about the rest of the creative team?
SG: The show was originally co-directed with Kathy Burke. I am a huge fan of Kathy and it was brilliant to get her perspective on the creative process.

We both decided to jump into the process and that probably meant that we spent a little while trying to work each other out, but I asked her to join me exactly because I wanted to learn from someone else’s approach. She has a beautifully clear and economical approach to text. She sniffs out truth and I think that is fundamentally what our job as directors should be.

The show was designed by Morgan Large. He is a very generous designer and created something that looks beautifully simple – but never is! It was my first time working with lighting designer Paul Keogan, but I am hoping it is not my last. Sound design was by Ella Wahlström, who I have been lucky enough to work with a few times now.

CM: Why did you decide to give the show a digital run like this?
SG: The UK tour was cut short less than half way. It really did feel like unfinished business. We have a commitment to touring and when something like that collapses you risk losing a very special connection with the people that engage with Frantic Assembly. And not just members of the public but venues and education establishments who desperately need support. We also wanted to feel present and relevant and a show like ‘I Think We Are Alone’ is arguably even more relevant now than before the pandemic!

CM: Does the show that’s going out online have any significant differences from the show that was staged in 2020? Does the fact that it’s being seen a different way make a difference to your approach as a director?
SG: On one level, no, but the fact that it is all created for camera changes everything. This is my first full scale production for the camera and it felt like a rare privilege and learning opportunity to be working with Tea Films to bring this new vision to life. I always believe you return to a project older and wiser, so it was a great opportunity to apply that learning.

CM: Despite the fact that venues are open and large scale theatrical events are happening, many companies are still offering opportunities to view streaming theatre – do you think that option is here to stay? If so, do you think that’s a good thing?
SG: Venues might be open but public events are still as vulnerable as a house of cards. We created a lot of digital content to support our relationships in education and for those that wanted to engage with the company. We learnt a lot from that and will continue to make work in this way.

What did not work, in my opinion, was the rush to put productions online for free. I felt we became saturated by these offers and it possibly devalued the work and the people who make the work. We have to be very careful about that.

CM: Can we talk about you now? Did you always want to be a director? How did your career begin?
SG: Theatre was something I bumped into, really. A teacher put my name down for a play when I was fifteen and I really enjoyed it. I continued doing school plays through Sixth Form but it took me a couple of years at university to pluck up the courage to join a drama society.

I knew very little about theatre and certainly would never have imagined a career in it. I would not have known how and where to start. I was lucky enough to experience a piece of work that changed my perspective of what theatre could be and from there on I wanted to make work with some like-minded friends.

CM: How did the founding of Frantic Assembly come about? What were your aims at the beginning?
SG: As I said, I can trace it back to seeing one piece of work – ‘Savages’ by Volcano Theatre. It made theatre properly visceral and exciting. Until that point I did not believe it could be like that. Steven Hoggett, Vicki Middleton and I decided to try to fool the world that we were a theatre company. We did not really know what directors were, we were not really performers, but we wanted to MAKE work.

Together we devoured opportunities that came our way and formed Frantic Assembly as a vehicle to make that work. We wanted to make work that could switch people on to the possibilities in the way that particular work had awakened something in us. We wanted to enthuse people like us. People who might never have believed engaging with the arts was for them. That is why touring and participation opportunities are so important.

CM: What have been your highlights from the company’s work thus far?
SG: So many! But hearing a crowd cheer and chant as our show ‘Othello’ was beginning, and not just at the end, showed me the fervent anticipation there was for our work among young people. We were making the kind of event that had switched me on years before. I am immensely proud of that.

CM: What ambitions do you have – for yourself, and/or Frantic Assembly – in the future?
SG: I want Frantic Assembly to be the most important theatre company in the UK. I believe we already hold a unique place in the theatre ecology, but it is my job to make work of a quality that keeps inspiring audiences, students, aspiring artists and those teachers that care deeply about their development.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
SG: Many, Many exciting things that I can’t mention just yet! Sorry! Keeping a secret is killing me!

‘I Think We Are Alone’ streams via Stream.Theatre from 29 Nov-4 Dec. Click here for more information and to book your viewing.