Soho Theatre – until 21 July
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Elliot Warren’s debut play is full of fire, fury and fizzling fun. The inhabitants of an East End estate vent their spleens in lyrical monologues as the threat of bulldozers loom over them.
Tel (Elliot Warren), lives with his girlfriend Kel (Olivia Brady) and his brother Reiss (Michael Jinks) in the flat belonging to Kel’s Grandad (Nick T Frost). Their downstairs neighbour is dealer Jamal (Alessandro Babalola). The characters are confrontational and in your face from the outset, describing their lives and confrontations with unapologetic candour.
Warren’s writing is lyrical and exciting, full of Shakespearean beauty and modern filth. This is Berkoff’s East for the 21st century, but with more warmth and heart. As the characters pour their hearts out revealing secrets about their lives, amongst the violence and shouting, there is always room for the silliness and humour that keeps families together. Stereotypes presented by the media about inner city estates are tackled and celebrated with a giant “up yours” to gentrification, and the sense of unromanticised pride in their community shines through.
Directed by Warren and Brady, the play is slick and full of movement, with Warren never still, portraying Tel as a dangerous caged animal. Brady’s Kel is a hoot, but equally powerful as she defends her way of life. Frost’s fantastic Grandad is instantly recognisable, all bad jokes and reminiscing about the past as he sits in his dressing gown. Jinks is wonderful as Reiss, hiding his fabulous life in Soho from his brother and squeezing every drop of emotion from his monologues. Babalola is phenomenal as Jamal – physically intimidating and terrifying, but finally revealing the lost little boy trapped in a life he hasn’t chosen. His sudden swings from defensive aggression to honest innocence are a joy to behold.
Brave, brilliant and slightly bonkers – Flesh and Bone is a must see.