I’m not sure I could have loved this play anymore if I’d tried. Flesh and Bone tells the story of five Eastenders and their lives on the estate. There is no set, just the very occasional prop -– the actors’ don’t need it. They seamlessly share their lives with us through cleverly devised physical scenes, a series of monologues and energetic interactions amongst the characters.
Warren’s writing merges ‘Shakespeare-inspired lyricism with Cockney accents’. This is not jarring in the slightest. It gives our heroes “down in the gutter” some status. It seems they are mocking us (we the audience are often addressed as the rich or higher classes). They knew “higher” language all along. And now they use it to share their story and portray their struggles to us – if that is the only way we will understand. There are juxtaposing moments like this throughout. Radetzky’s march plays as Terrence kills an infestation of rats within his flat. The fusion of classical music with a man running around biting the heads of rats that they believe the council has planted in their homes to drive them out really does say something about class division. By combining two extreme perceptions of what class might be perceived as we mock it. We highlight the ludicrousy of thinking one belongs to the other.
When presenting shows related to class issues it can be difficult to get it right. ‘Impressions’ of a class can be patronising or the message to unite or address the problem can be earnest or pretentious. Flesh and Bone avoided this. Their characters had the upper hand (for once) and they were multi-dimensional, rather than stereotypes of what they portrayed. The individual monologues of the character’s meant that we as an audience got to know them on a deeper level and this gave them context. Particularly moving was Babalola’s depiction of Jamal, where we learnt about his struggle to support his sick mother and the hard man act he has to undertake just to survive, despite not identifying with “the part that was given to me”. He states “ain’t not one of you know my pain”, but within these moments of intimacy and connection, I think we begin to.
These moments are interjected with humour as we learn about his love of bake-off and he apologises for shouting at an audience member. The whole piece rocks between the dark reality these characters face and comic relief. Kelly gives birth to a football, Grandad is speaking to his own grand-daughter via a sex line and whilst Reiss struggles with his sexuality, he asks us “can a fella not be a geezer and be fabulous at the same time?”. We laugh, but why can’t he? Again, Warren’s writing brings two opposing roles together and tackles another topical issue – masculinity. All the text is poignant and relevant with comedy used as a vehicle to tackle prejudices head on and encouraging us to reconsider our viewpoints.
Brady and Warren’s direction is slick, powerful and inventive. As aforementioned, there is really nothing in the way of set. The choreography means there doesn’t need to be. The lack of set somehow drives home the idea that our characters are making something from nothing. They have nothing and somehow they are fighting and making it work as best as they can. The time and precision that has gone into the direction is evident. There is a stunning choreographed fight scene in the local pub. The character’s squeeze together creating four walls for Kelly as she takes a cup of tea in the kitchen, whilst Terrence uses the toilet Grandad watches tv and Reiss works out in his room. The scene is aesthetically pleasing and ingeniously shows us the cramped conditions in which they are living. Characters become neutral and hold up blankets to create the bed in which Kelly and Terrence accidentally conceive their child.
The actors’ make full use of each other to create spaces and their bodies and physicality create a range of images that portray their world to us. The direction and energy means that we are engaged and present throughout, with moments such as the end sequence giving real impact, when the character’s come together to speak to us, each line they speak uttered with a physical move and gravitas that punctuates every line.
Unpolished Theatre have presented a new way to look at class division. Flesh and Bone is heartfelt, humourous and moving. This is theatre that tackles perceptions and drives an audience to wish for change.
Review by Freya Bardell
With their homes due for demolition, the gritty residents of an East London Tower Block fight for their very right to exist in a city that is unjustly trying to kick them out. Exploring the depravity, triumphs and utter hilarity of their situation, Unpolished Theatre thrust the audience headfirst into the story.
Using wickedly eloquent voices, Flesh and Bone seeks to articulate the unspoken, drawing from real life and giving a voice and compassion to characters who society frequently turn their nose up at. Inspired by Eliot Warren and Olivia Brady’s own families and observations, this show has been awarded a Scotsman Fringe First, the Holden Street Theatres’ Edinburgh Fringe Award and a Critics Circle Award in Adelaide alongside the Overall Best Theatre Award of the entire festival.
East-End born and bred, Elliot Warren and Olivia Brady met at Bournemouth University where they began to forge work that gives a voice to working-class communities in this country.
Terrence Elliot Warren
Kelly Olivia Brady
Reiss Michael Jinks
Jamal Alessandro Babalola
Grandad Nick T Frost
Flesh and Bone
Performance Dates Tuesday 3rd – Saturday 21st July 2018
Running time 1 hour 20 minutes
Twitter @SohoTheatre, @UnpolishedLDN, #FleshandBoneLDN