The solo show is in many ways ideally suited to the fringe, but the hour-long monologue is not the easiest thing to pull off. It’s more exposing as a form, showing any up narrative cracks, any uncertainties in performance. Jane Upton’s short but punchy play, Bones, is one of the stronger ones.
An empty cot sits on one side of the stage and the play begins with a young man contemplating the various ways in which he could kill his baby sister. It’s an upsetting premise, but the strength in Upton’s writing is the way she makes the audience grasp why he might feel this way. Mark’s life has been unbearably hard, with a drug addict for a mother and an abusive grandfather; there is no kindness in his life, no sense of a world beyond his own. The child is not entirely real to him; it’s just another drain on his mother, a nuisance, a strange sucking thing.
Mark associates the child with his mother’s decline into a glazed stupor; he has been forced to carry too much for one so young and just wants ‘some peace.’ The play is often harrowing but while Upton doesn’t altogether avoid cliché, her writing is accomplished in the way it uses detail, in the way it takes such uncomfortable material and opens it up, finds new paths through it. Flickers of nostalgia, for better, safer times, for the bitter sea at Skegness, save the play from becoming oppressive.
The piece is made more compelling still by Joe Doherty’s performance. It’s a well-judged piece of acting, economical and measured; his voice has an easy rhythm and he succeeds in making the audience want to listen to this young man’s story, despite the increasing bleakness of the narrative. The one time he raises his voice in rage, in aggression, is during an encounter with a prostitute. All the hurt and despair he is feeling come spilling out, the power dynamic shifts and the brutalised becomes the brutaliser.
The projections on the back panel of Nathan Rose’s set can at times seem superfluous and there’s something hurried and abrupt to the way the piece ends but the play has a considerable grip.