It’s a stripped-bare stage that Flesh & Bone takes place on. That emptiness is quickly filled, though, with the explosive personalities and booming stories of our East London lot.
Noted for it’s mix of florid Shakespeare-like dialogue alongside contemporary slang and profanity, Flesh & Bone tells the tale of five poor buggers with verbal extravagance. There is no central narrative to the show, with a stronger focus on monologues from each of our players describing their daily life and the depressing trials and hilarious joys that come with it.
Everyone has something to hide, and part of Flesh & Bone’s beauty is how these characters, who first appear as cockney caricatures, peel back their hardened façades to reveal the vulnerabilities and deep desires all humans share. Be they a bar brawler, a young, choiceless mum, or ageing widower, these souls are desperately striving to find freedom in the oppressive circumstances of their tower block.
It’s all agony and ecstasy for this talented cast, who recount the funny exchanges and crushing defeats of their characters’ lives with effervescent energy. Each one is a winner, but Alessandro Babaloa stands as a highlight, with his character Jamal’s turns between being a cyclops and kitten of a man alongside his impressive physicality.
The scenes that intervene in these varied monologues tie the show together excellently. Bar one chair, the stage is always empty, with canny choreography and mime helping to paint pictures of the local pub, cramped flats or a convenience store hold up.
Language is, of course, a key part of Flesh & Bone’s appeal. This mix of contemporary British slang and Shakespeare-like prose is a smart one, making itself at once fresh and relatable, but capable of conveying deeper meaning through analogies and classical references. Occassionally, the soundtrack does interfere with or override the mouthfuls of dialogue coming at the audience, but a few missed lines don’t spoil much, as there’s plenty more to come.
This use of complex, reference-laden language is also a bit of a Trojan horse in itself. While Flesh & Bone doesn’t hit the audience over the head with it, there is the creeping message here that while this rogue’s gallery is stuck in the “black treacle” of poverty, we who live comfortable lives are a part of the society that keeps them marginalised.
Flesh & Bone is certainly a rollercoaster, with a super physical and hyper verbal performance taking one into the highs and lows of the lives of those at the bottom of the ladder, stripping their souls as bare as the stage its played on.
Flesh & Bone was performed at Holden Street Theatres’ The Studio on Saturday, February 17 and continues until March 18.