A group of five clamour like thunderclouds swarming the skies. They are ready for a storm. “We are all just flesh and we are all just bone”, they say – a party of geezers and a singular bird. Fierce and furious, the company surge like boiling water jumping out of a kettle. They are constantly moving, with each word carefully choreographed. It is a dance of sorts. A collision of Shakespearean verse, cockney slang, monologues and ensemble work.
It is explosive. Feet slam against the floor with enough force to dislocate joints and tear tendons, pulling Soho from underneath the audience. It is replaced with the East End, where the local pub is a place of worship – a sanctuary in comparison to the council estate in which these five reside. The actors are hot, rowdy, and dripping with sweat. Veins stand proudly against their skin, bursting with a villainous fever. However, no one is as they seem. Reiss (played by Michael Jinks) appears outwardly loud and aggressive – though not as hostile as his brother, Terrance (Elliot Warren). Together, they live with their Grandad (Nick T Frost) and Kelly, Terrance’s fiancé (Olivia Brady).
Family dynamics are narrated in iambic pentameter, each character charged with a tension that develops between their internal and external personas. The group fall into careers revolving around sex chat lines and organised crime. They speak in salacious sonnets of swearwords, and multi-role with voices that change colour like chameleons. There is both beautiful and disturbing imagery – words enough to make toes curl and some that snatch laughter from the belly, drawing it out of the throat in deep, aching spells.
Jamal (Alessandro Babalola), lives below the other four with his mother. He is imposing, his height and rippling muscles creating a sense of great strength. Utterly hypnotic, he confides in the audience, ashamed but unable to avoid turning to antisocial behaviour. Slowly, the outer layers of each character are peeled away, and together they move in waves that begin to erode the social and political system in which they exist. They come too close for comfort, with eyes trained on the faces of their spectators. There is no escaping this story.
Written by Warren, Flesh and Bone reveals the innards of these East End working class people and then spills them over the stage. It is fearsome and fantastic, bringing to light issues around homosexuality, the silence of London’s councils, and the psychological struggles facing young people who turn to crime as a means of self- protection. This production is a stunning debut from Warren, laying truths bare with a starkly inventive use of language and movement. It is a delight to experience new writing of this calibre, especially when it shows such distinctive grit. This is the kind of event that grabs manhood in both fists and refuses to let go. What’s more, you won’t want it to.
Flesh and Bone is on at Soho Theatre until Saturday 21st July. More info here.