Flesh and Bone explodes out the blocks as a fury of fists and fast-paced spoken word, a combination of classical poetic metre and modern-language. Elliot Warren’s script is a glorious mash-up of text and slang, shining a spotlight on the realities of an East London working-class area. It throws together comedy, hardships and hidden secrets kept close to the chest for protection. Each actor emphasises a set of lives that aren’t in themselves out of the ordinary – the personalities too often resemble characters in a sitcom, but each one is nevertheless full of grit and guts.
The story may revolve around Tel (Warren) and Kel (Olivia Brady), but it’s just as much about the rest of the ensemble – one dysfunctional family. Each character gets to tell their tale in a display of honest humanity. It’s rare to see such a strong overall set of performers – every performance is a beautiful blend of pathos and power, comedy and tragedy. There’s drug dealer Jamal (Alessandro Babalola) who is forced to convey the tough guy persona in order to survive and provide for his sick mum; there’s brother Reiss (Michael Jinks), who plays a jack-the-lad geezer, constantly bobbing and weaving but who really leads a double life as a closeted gay man in Soho. Each solo confession rides an emotional wave of highs and lows, giving the audience a chance to see the soul underneath the bravado. The monologues in particular are superbly executed displays of captivating storytelling.
Warren’s overall narrative isn’t particularly innovative or ground-breaking. But he focusses his energy on the language, an effortless fusion of old with new. This is the sinew that sticks Flesh and Bone together, every sentence either showcasing a vulnerability in the characters or a comedy moment that snaps the audience back with a laugh. The juxtaposition of the two is expertly handled in a script that is brimming with creativity and flair. As the debut production from Warren and Brady’s Unpolished Theatre, Flesh and Bone perfectly highlights a potentially genre-defining partnership in the years to come.
In a show that is teaming with talent, to stand out from the crowd is the mark of a truly exceptional actor. From a comedy perspective, Kel (Brady) is head and shoulders above the rest; Brady ekes out every microsecond possible from her sharp tongued quips. But in all other aspects, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from Reiss. Jinks has an incredible understanding of the nuances within his character and is a magnetic orator. His monologues are dynamic and paced, but also tender and touching. His physicality and reaction to everything around him is carefully considered and precisely executed, a role that steals a scene even when standing in the background.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a sea of talented productions, but sometimes a gem comes along and stands out from the crowd. It’s not difficult to see why Flesh and Bone has achieved such success here – it won one of the first Scotsman Fringe First Awards of the festival and just today has won the Holden Street Theatre Award. As a production, Flesh and Bone is visceral, human and messy. It’s not sugar coated or fantastical, but it hits you hard and makes you sit up and listen. It’s impossible not to pay attention and be bowled over by the sheer magnitude of the talent that emanates from the stage.
Flesh and Bone plays Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 until 28 August 2017. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.