Old Joint Stock, Birmingham, Tuesday 16th January, 2018
Mark is a 19-year-old with a temper – to put it mildly – in this production by Gritty Theatre of Jane Upton’s one-hander. As the story unfolds, we learn of his situation and his past. He’s unemployed, blowing his money on blow-outs from McDonalds and blow jobs from spotty prostitutes, his only respite from a living hell with his drug-abusing mother and the unfortunate baby sister at whom he directs his anger and frustration. He plans to kill the child, just to get some peace but, the more we learn about him, the more we realise he won’t go through with it. Will he?
He relives memories of happier times: a seaside holiday with Mum and Grandad – until the spectre of drug abuse ruins everything.
All in all, it’s a grim tale, ameliorated only by glimpses of humour, but a raw, fearless and intense performance by Dominic Thompson, who not only narrates the story but inhabits it, keeps us entranced. Director Ian Robert Moule has Thompson utilise pub props and pub furniture to represent what’s going on in the account: and so, a spillage of lager becomes the young Mark’s pissed trousers; his hoodie becomes the prostitute; a toppled stool becomes the incapacitated mother the little boy desperately tries to dress… It’s inventive stuff and highly evocative but, of course, the power of the production comes through Thompson’s volatile presence. Mark is quick to boil over into fury. It’s not so much a short fuse as no fuse at all, and while there are quieter moments and even calmer moments, perhaps Mark could do with more time to simmer. He seems to go instantly to 11, as though a switch is being flicked. Thompson maintains the energy and intensity of his portrayal and is never short of compelling and credible in what is a bravura performance.
The material is gritty – as we might expect! – and we do feel for Mark, who has had to deal with matters no child should ever encounter. The play finishes on a life-changing shock, a culmination of horribleness, that leaves us with a nasty aftertaste. Upton shows us a dark side of society without offering a way-out, or a suggestion of how things could improve, and so Bones is ultimately bleak. But the powerful presentation gives us something to admire in this gruelling, gruesome tale.