Flesh and Bone is a gritty tale of urban poverty and the masks that social erosion and disadvantage force on upon its victims. In an East London Council estate, five residents share their secrets and fears as they face the threat of council sabotage and eviction. There’s Terence (Elliot Warren), a knuckle-driven geezer with a heart of gold, his girlfriend Kel (Olivia Brady) who works sex chatlines but harbours dreams of a singing career, and Ter’s brother Reiss (Michael Jinks), who fears he’ll be disowned, or worse, should his true self be revealed. They share a flat with Grandpa (Nick T Cross), who bemoans the loss of his alcoholic wife, while their neighbour and local dealer, Jamal (Alessandro Babalola), wishes he could set aside his beastly façade and take care of his mum.
The performances are explosive and nuanced, demanding attention at every turn. Warren’s writing is tightly crafted and brilliantly executed, with all the guts and glamour of a cockney Shakespeare. There’s a captivating rhythm to the delivery of each line, owing much to Warren’s playful rhyme and metre, but also to the show’s physicality. It’s as if Guy Ritchie did the Bard, and the result is an extraordinary visual feast with slow-motion fight scenes and choreographed asides, made all the more impressive owing to the minimalist set.
The largely classical soundtrack, together with an eloquence typically reserved for a more privileged class, contrast effectively against the cutting slang and visceral realities of the working class. High and low art smash effectively into one another, highlighting the play’s underlying criticism of gentrification and the effects of cultural and social exclusion. As the character’s lament, they are ‘beasts’ and ‘monsters’ chained to this ‘hell-hole’, but we created them and through our discrimination we keep them there. Flesh and Bone reveals a cast of complex, multi-dimensional people doing their best to care for one another, and get by.
Flesh and Bone is the first production of Unpolished Theatre, a company established in 2016 by the show’s co-directors, Elliot Warren and Olivia Brady, and comes to the Adelaide Fringe thanks to the 2017 Holden Street Theatre Award. This is an innovative and exciting work, and Unpolished Theatre are certainly a company to watch!