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Tambo & Bones at Theatre Royal Stratford East | Review

I guarantee that you will never have seen a play like this!!

Dave Harris’ 2022 Tambo and Bones, now being given its UK premiere at Stratford East, has the following warning at the top of the programme: “this production contains strobe lighting, flashing lights, haze, loud noises (including sounds of gunfire, explosions and screaming), violence, strong language, use of a prop knife, use of a t-shirt canon (fired into the audience), repeated use of the ‘n’ word, references to genocide and discusses themes some may find upsetting relating to race”. The language is indeed very strong – even more so than suggested above – but the end result is a marvellous piece of theatre, relevant to racism, life, the world: you name it, it is there!

Rhashan Stone (Tambo) in Tambo & Bones at Stratford East. Photographer The Other Richard
Rhashan Stone (Tambo) in Tambo & Bones at Stratford East. Photographer The Other Richard .

The ‘play’, for want of a better word, is superbly written in a “Fake-Ass” (Dave Harris) style: it is VERY funny, then suddenly very shocking, then as suddenly silent and poignant, giving us, the audience, time for thought. Indeed, at the end an announcement is made that if anyone wishes to sit quietly in the theatre because they have been affected by what they have seen, that is more than acceptable. Harris is a poet as well as being a playwright and this is evident, especially in the central part, the piece flowing seamlessly but energetically.

I do not want to say too much regarding what Tambo and Bones is about, except that in Part One we are asked to see the two protagonists in a ‘Minstrel Show’ of the past, when it is hard to know what is real. They plan to escape, get rich, get even. Part Two is set in the present day “like a Hollywood Hood Movie… police sirens, gunshots, helicopters, cinematic… the getaway”. The rest of this part needs to be experienced, not described, and thank goodness it is followed by the interval!

Part Three looks into Racism in the future and the treatment of robots by humans who use them as if they are slaves…

Rhasham Stone and Daniel Ward are Tambo and Bones; they are simply superb in their roles! How, we ask ourselves, do they possibly have the energy to do all that they are asked to do physically, as well as being totally believable in their roles and working together as if they have known each other all their lives? How do they achieve all the subtle (and not-so-subtle) gear changes that the playwright asks for? Both have that charisma and rapport with the audience and are totally at ease with what they have been asked to do, never being fazed by comments from the audience and sometimes going off-script to reply.

They are aided by Jaron Lammens and Dru Cripps as the two robots, who create believable ‘roles’ in spite of being slaves to their masters.

The play has been inventively directed by Matthew Xia, giving the piece terrific energy and pace when it is needed, as well as silence when that is needed, as it is especially in Part Three. He is the Artistic Director of Actors Touring Company which I hope means that Tambo and Bones will tour after its run at Stratford – I should love to be party to the reactions of audiences in different parts of the UK, for example, Eastbourne or Belfast…

Ciaran Cunningham has designed lighting that is not only always appropriate but is often stunningly imaginative, especially in Part Two, and Richard Hammarton’s Sound seems to come from everywhere in the theatre all at once – true “surround sound” but always at the service of the production.

Tambo and Bones is by far the best ‘new’ American play I have seen for years: it really has to be experienced and provides much food for thought on the state of the world and its people and its future. The capacity audience at Stratford East were fully involved in the play from the start, commenting, cheering, and applauding as well as laughing long and loudly. A wonderful piece of theatre – I do urge you to see it!

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

Tambo and Bones are stuck in a minstrel show. It’s hard to know what’s real when you’re stuck in a minstrel show. Their escape plan: get out, get rich, get even.

Join Tambo (Rhashan Stone) and Bones (Daniel Ward) on their journey from comedy double-act, to hip-hop superstars, to activists in an America at the epicentre of the global Black Lives Matter movement.

TAMBO & BONES laughs through our past, blows the roof off our present and imagines an explosive future for our world… and for theatre.

The cast includes Rhashan Stone as Tambo and Daniel Ward as Bones. Dru Cripps and Jaron Lammens complete the cast as X-BOT-1 and X-BOT-2

Written by Dave Harris
Directed by Matthew Xia
Designed by Sadeysa Greenaway-Bailey & ULTZ
Lighting Design by Ciarán Cunningham
Hip-Hop Songs Composed by Excalibah
Sound Design & Additional Composition by Richard Hammarton
Movement Direction by Kloé Dean
Video Design by Gino Ricardo Green
Casting Direction by Julia Horan
Assistant Direction by Danielle Kassarate
Fight Direction by Kevin McCurdy
Costume Supervision by Ysanne Tidd
Dramatherapist Wabriya King
Stage Manager Marie-Angelique St. Hill
Deputy Stage Manager Phyllys Egharevba
Assistant Stage Manager Anna Townley

Until Saturday 15 July 2023 | www.stratfordeast.com

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  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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