Flesh and Bone

Review by SUSY BRETT

Elliot Warren’s award-winning debut play, Flesh and Bone, came to the Soho Theatre.

Flesh and Bone is a snapshot into the lives of five working class individuals who have lived their entire lives in an East London council estate. Power couple Terrence ‘Tel’ (Warren) and Kelly ‘Kel’ (Olivia Brady) live with Tel’s brother Reiss (Michael Jinks) and granddad (Nick T Frost), on an estate that also includes their drug-dealing neighbour Jamal (Alessandro Babalola) and his mother. As they deal with the ups and downs of the hand they have been dealt, the audience is thrust headfirst into a world of extreme highs, extreme lows and cockney bolshiness.

There is so much to say about Flesh and Bone’s marvellous script. It’s a good thing Soho Theatre’s upstairs studio sells the play text on the door because the script is rich with emotion and wit that one will want to read (and probably see) again. Flesh and Bone infuse Shakespeare-style lyricism and rhythm to the text, delivering a real punch as it shatters stereotypes to reveal depth and poignancy and street smarts. While very intense, Flesh and Bone does what it says on the tin. It strikes straight at the heart, evoking every emotion it intends to evoke (and perhaps more).

That said, Flesh and Bone’s synopsis does it something of a disservice, describing the “depravity” and “utter hilarity” of the underprivileged as a feast for the eyes. The implication that the working classes are zoo animals deserving of pity is actually a prejudice the play goes a long way to work against. While it is a painful and thorough insight to the poverty and the powerful sense of belonging of those who live in such a community, it is also alive with excitement and thrill throughout, as these characters demonstrate they want nobody’s pity.

There are no weak links in terms of acting, with easily some of the most powerful and raw performances off-West End (and probably on-West End) right now. Warren’s script blesses its performers with in-depth complex characters, showcasing each actor’s strengths. Every actor is a standout, commanding the audience’s thoughts and feelings and laughter. Writer, director and actor Warren is intimidating and honest as Tel, his partner, director and actor Brady, is full of spunk, ferocity and dreams as Kelly. Michael Jinks is smart and thought-provoking as the slightly different brother Reiss, who harbours an unlikely secret. Then there’s Frost as the granddad, equal parts hilarious and touching. Finally, and perhaps because he is isolated from the family unit, Alessandro Babalola’s Jamal is particularly powerful, peeling back layer upon layer throughout the play. Despite his massive physical presence, his performance is imbued with genuine vulnerability.

All the hallmarks of fringe theatre are here and demonstrated expertly. The show is experimental in its narrative, dialogue and staging. The movement is particularly fun to watch, recreating a pub brawl in slow motion and pure theatrics. There are stellar performances throughout, aided by a meaty script, which the cast clearly relish. It is gritty. It is brilliantly funny. It is sharp writing. Flesh and Bone is a masterclass in Fringe theatre, or perhaps just theatre.