Flesh and Bone by Elliot Warren
Soho Theatre (short walk from Tottenham Court Road tube station) until 21 July
Runs 1 hr 20 minutes with no interval
Review Info: Veronica Stein, 4th July 2018.
Flesh and Bone is fresh and honed
Terrence lives on an East London Council Estate with his brother, Reiss, his girlfriend, Olivia, her Grandad, and in the flat below theirs, Jamal. They all go through life doing what they can to survive, whether that’s operating a phone sex line, dealing drugs, or being on the other side of these interactions.
This sounds like the makings of a pretty dispiriting and tense performance, and it is- but it is also one of the most hilarious currently playing in London. Elliott Warren (both the playwright and the actor who portrays Terrence) has written an ode to his upbringing as well as Jacobean verse in a bevy of imperfect rhymes and largely inappropriate jokes- just as the bard would have wanted it. Injected into the proceedings are slow motion fight sequences, audience interaction, and an all around sense of physical urgency which matches the heightened language to keep you on the edge of your seat. More significant than the stylistic merit of Flesh and Bone is the sensitivity of the writing to the nature of these characters; yes they are cramped, reckless, and terrified of the ever looming threat of eviction by ruthless authorities, but they also exhibit the same neuroses generally afforded to characters of more upper-class persuasions, whether they be a penchant for Bake Off or dreaming of being a singer. Though the title ‘Flesh and Bone’ may bring a visceral, gritty atmosphere to mind, the operative way it is used in the text is to evoke how, for the characters of this play, their council estate can be both their prison and the origins of their family, chosen and unchosen.
The energy of the ensemble is pretty a spectacular, a well oiled machine that knows precisely when to take it a little too far and when to let the writing breathe. Warren and Olivia Brady (Kelly), who direct as well, have honed the black comedy of the piece and play the bickering-but-besotted central couple with flair and warmth. Nick T. Frost, as Kelly’s Grandfather, is delightful in his ensemble work as well as his widower. The piece is bounding in youthful energy and his pacing helps to round it out through its capacity for wisdom. Alessandro Babalola is physically intimidating as Jamal, the community’s resident dealer with ambitions to get out and help his ailing mother. Michael Jinks, as Terrence’s brother Reiss, is stellar as the resident activist and closeted Soho bartender terrified of what coming out might to do to his relationships.
The five together are believable, entertaining, and heart-wrenching, ultimately proving that the people in these estates are the strengths of their community- and though they are flesh and bone like anyone else, they are far more complex than just blood and sinew. Flesh and Bone is a thought-provoking, belly-laugh inducing work that is well worth a watch.
Terrence: Elliot Warren
Kelly: Olivia Brady
Reiss: Michael Jinks
Jamal: Alessandro Babalola
Grandad: Nick T Frost
Directors: Elliot Warren and Olivia Brady