First performed at Camden’s Etcetera Theatre in 2016, Unpolished Theatre’s production of Elliot Warren’s debut play next had a stint at the 2017 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, before moving on to Adelaide Fringe – and now it’s resident at the Soho Theatre (Upstairs) for a limited run. This award-winning play is working class East London through and through, tinged with a Shakespearean influence that gives it a lyrical, but Cockney, flavour.
Terrence and his fiancée Kelly live in the same tiny flat in Dalston with her grandad and his brother. Their existence is hand-to-mouth, generating any extra cash they can just to make sure they can keep their nights at the pub watching football over a plate of scampi & chips; whether it’s working on a sex chatline or in a Soho bar, it’s all to keep them in the life they know and feel safest in. The same goes for Jamal, who lives downstairs – he just needs to earn enough money to help his sick mum. But they all begin to get the feeling that the council wants to drive them out of the estate for their own ends. Who would care if an entire estate got evicted, other than the people themselves?
This is a show like no other. Just five people are needed to bring this world to a bare stage, and it feels so alive that you can’t help but get sucked in straightaway. In a nod to the classics, Warren has included a prologue at the beginning – it immediately sets the scene & mood, before the first scene introduces the audience to the key players and their personalities. The text is dripping with filth, and bristles like a caged beast; the odd line from the Bard, as well as the poetic nature of the writing, adds that something extra. It keeps up a relentless pace but all seems to come so naturally, rolling off the tongue and providing extra outlets for comedy.
The story itself is an increasingly familiar one: the working class are downtrodden, ever more forgotten & set aside as councils & the government choose profits over people. Luxury flats and gentrification threaten ordinary people’s lives and destroy communities, but is anyone listening? Flesh and Bone demands your attention and delivers a powerful message about the forgotten masses. It humanises and surprises; with some killer lines too (one of my favourites, which earned a mid-scene round of applause on press night, has to be “Can a fella not be a geezer and be fabulous at the same time?”). As well as the script (a well-balanced combination of monologues and scenes), there is a good injection of music and sound effects at certain points, that help transition between sections or soundtrack key moments (such as a punch-up in the pub).
The cast of five pulse with energy and physicality, imposing themselves on the audience and taking them along for the ride. From Nick T. Frost’s bad grandad to Alessandro Babalola’s secretly not-so-bad Jamal, as well as Michael Jinks’ engaging Reiss and co-directors Elliot Warren & Olivia Brady as Tel & Kel. Warren and Brady are particularly impressive as the central couple, both in their fiery exchanges and their own solo moments. Each actor brings great commitment to the piece, with their passion & wit shining through.
My verdict? A vital piece of theatre with an important message as well as a whole load of humour, performed with passion & physicality by a talented cast – an entertainingly filthy play that you will not want to miss!
Flesh and Bone runs at Soho Theatre (Upstairs) until 21 July 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.