Short on coinage, Terry (Elliot Warren) and “wife-to-be” Kelly (Olivia Brady) are forced to share digs with Terry’s brother Reiss (Michael Jinks) and Grandad (Nick T Frost) in a rat-infested tower block earmarked for demolition.
It’s a gutter, says Terry in a scene-setting speech – a place people don’t like to talk about and where “no Nancy wants to stroll”.
Hardly surprising, then, that the opening scene involves a pub fight between the brothers and neighbour Jamal (Alessandro Babaloa) after Terry accidentally clocks him with a flying glass.
What is surprising is that the kicking and punching unfolds in slow motion, choreographed to a gentle classical soundtrack.
The winner of Holden Street Theatres’ Edinburgh Fringe Award 2017, Unpolished Theatre’s Flesh & Bone is a play that seeks to challenge expectations and preconceptions. This working-class microcosm is a place where words like “maketh” and “doth” are uttered alongside “geezer” “c∗∗t” and “f∗∗k”, where intense monologues are followed by slapstick or acts of thuggery, where things and people are not quite as they seem.
It takes us under the skin of its hard-edged characters: Kelly has a job no one knows about, Reiss has a secret he is terrified to share with his brother, Jamal hides his real self behind a thuggish façade. And then there’s Grandad, up in his room all alone …
The actors are all brilliant, but it’s Warren who is the most commanding presence on stage and in the tower block as the tense and twitchy Terry/Tel, who always seems on the edge: “I like to fight. I always have and I always will. It’s an incessive and primitive delight inside my bestial mind.”
There’s certainly a lot not to like about Terry, but his monologues – delivered with both eloquence and punch – challenge the audience to consider: What maketh the man?
Unpolished Theatre is a relatively new theatre company established by Warren and Brady, who have taken inspiration from the work of British playwright Steven Berkoff, as well as filmmakers Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino.
Warren has said in interviews that he wanted to give an articulate voice to those who might have difficulty being heard, as well as create a play where people won’t look away for even a moment.
Flesh & Bone succeeds on both counts, taking its audience on a roller-coaster ride that provokes laughs, gasps and incredulity at the chaotic creativity, raucous energy and frequent filthiness of it all.
When push comes to shove – which it frequently does – this is a Fringe play that lovers of edgy original theatre won’t want to miss.
Flesh & Bone is playing at Holden Street Theatres until March 18.
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