Flesh & Bone

Wed 2nd – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Claire Louise Richardson

at 09:29 on 8th Aug 2017

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‘Flesh & Bone’ by Unpolished Theatre, written by Elliot Warren, was sensational. The story follows a group of residents living in an East London tower block which is due for demolition. The five characters both narrate and perform the show, discussing their lives, the problems they encounter and their emotions, and most of all, exposing buried elements of identity. Overall, the characterisation was what really gave this piece a five-star worthy rating.

At first glance you could question whether the play might push the stereotypes too far, but they were handled with great care. Realities were exposed with brutal honesty, in ways that we would not expect. While Kelly is portrayed as a stereotypical ‘chav’ (played by the fantastic Olivia Brady) with her big hoop earrings and aggressive make up, we are shown a sensitive, personal side to Kelly’s bulletproof, streetwise demeanour. She is the matriarch of this piece. The cheeky rhymes and clever language really help to lace the different characters and their stories together as one family protecting this block. We are being trusted with the reality of life in this tower block, and what really makes these people tick. It is intimate and at times moving – this is not just a comedy. At one point Kelly jokes ‘I don’t have the energy to develop my own personality.’ These residents don’t develop their own personalities - they reveal them.

This was the perfect time to launch a play like this. This year, the Fringe is humming with the aftermath of Brexit, of the election, and of events across the pond, and this play (finally, thank you) turns the focus away and we are back in the thick of reality, having been treading the waters of Fake News on the Mile. As such this piece is very refreshing. Using clever wordplay, the characters and their social state are not mocked but praised. We can revel in the brothers’ close relationship, we can look up to Kelly’s dedication when pushing away the demolitioners. The Grandpa (played by Nick Frost) is incredibly funny in many scenes, but when he says, ‘I wore my old & crumpled skin only as a cloak’ we are reminded that there is so much depth beneath the comedy. The play was truly funny, with its words, with its actions, and most of all, these characters and their stories. I wanted the what-happened-next – will there be a sequel? It was proof of the close relationship that was built with the audience when they stood to applaud at the end.

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Noah Lachs

at 11:09 on 8th Aug 2017

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During the robbery of an off-licence, Jamal (Alessandro Babalola) pulls the gun, “does all the talking”, and makes off with the dough. Resenting the role of beta-criminal, the pugnacious Terrence (Elliot Warren), makes his contribution to the heist. He lands his contribution on the shopkeeper’s nose. Fantasising about the hit, Terrence extolls the shopkeeper’s “beautiful busted bugle”. This plosive and comic alliteration is one example of many in the play. Flesh and Bone expertly exploits language to depict the “merrily miserable” world of five East London tower-block residents.

Rhyming couplets are also central to the play’s linguistic brilliance. Sometimes these couplets are Byronic in their bathetic hilarity, such as when Kelly (Olivia Brady) explains how she gets her sex-line client “shooting quick” so that “before Corrie” she can “have a shit”. Other times they force a poignant message, for instance, when Jamal exits with the lines “help me treat my sick mother, buy a 20 bag from a brother”. On top of these devices, Elliot Warren has woven in syntax and diction reminiscent of Shakespeare’s, for example, “methinks” often replaces I think. Indeed there are a number of allusions to lines from Shakespeare’s plays, from Romeo and Juliet to Hamlet. Moreover, “merrily miserable”—a phrase central to understanding the mind-set of the play—is an oxymoron the Bard would be proud of.

It is vital to grasp the point of all this linguistic artistry and cultural allusion. The council estate cast are burdened with every conceivable associated stereotype, yet they command an exceptional rhetorical capability. Crucially, this means they are empowered to tell their own stories. As well as making for hugely engaging performances, this is also all part of a process of subverting and challenging audience expectation. Working class people don't have a voice, and if they do, it’s not articulate. Or so says the stereotype that Flesh and Bone rebuts. At certain points, the play’s subversion is very direct, such as when Reiss (Frank Mchugh) reveals his escape: a place of “lights, pills, and so many… boys”. The audible gasp when the audience computes that Reiss is gay, and that the place is Soho, is challenged head on by the character, who later asks, “can a fella not be a geezer and fabulous?” This is a play where hard men can be gay, and where Shakespeare and Chopin provide the lyrical and musical soundtracks to the daily grind of drug-dealers.

The play also pulsates with the energy of its dynamic characters. The actors expertly capture their roles’ idiosyncrasies. Elliot Warren’s physicality (particularly his crazed twitch) perfectly conveys Terrence’s explosive nature. Furthermore, the cast have exceptional chemistry that makes for seamless choreography, and adds an endearing naturalness to relationships, particularly to Terrence and Kelly’s. But for the literary style, much of the action could be unscripted.

Beneath the eloquence, humour and performance, there is a painful but pertinent narrative. In the play, the authorities want to drive the tower block residents from their home: the tower block is an eyesore for “bourgeois dog-walkers”. This line has a fresh horror following the Grenfell tragedy. Flesh and Blood is a play that will look you dead in the eyes and kick you in the balls. Electrifying, eloquent, emotive, it is unlike anything you’ll see at this year’s Festival.

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