Only Bones, Soho Theatre


by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice

Short and sweet, classic and comical. Thomas Monckton performs a solo piece glued to his spot, centre stage beneath a low hanging lamp, which obscures his body from the shoulders up for at least half of the work. Only Bones is a classic example of body manipulation that playfully explores all the possibilities that a clown can find and make with only his body, one square metre of space, and one light. These creative boundaries have been stretched and tested but remain in performance to give the show a formal identity and context for Monckton’s shenanigans.

The forty-minute, one-man show whizzes by, piqued by giggles and snorts from both audience and performer. It is a fine work and an exquisite demonstration of clowning that explores what it is to rediscover your bones and your body, one limb at a time. The result of such play and experimentation is honed and structured into sections with an element of humour, emotion or crude narrative at its core. This perfectly demonstrates how tapping fingers, poking at knees and isolating joints can transform bits of a body into breathing, bickering, thinking and feeling creatures. From the foot trio made with a disguised arm in a sock, to one hand begging the other to paint its nails, a miniature human world is created and immediately transformed by the addition of glove for example that turns into a beating heart as two hands huddle together inside.

The work opens with a micro duet of two hands. Joints ripple and shudder as fingers twist, flick and float in a mesmerising jellyfish dance that takes me to the depths of the ocean, like staring at a trippy psychedelic screen saver.The handiwork of Monckton recalls the hand work of Jonathon Burrows in his seminal piece Hands, whilst adding the silly and evocative images of a true clown. Swinging, prodding and flopping a head that just won’t sit in place, Monckton flicks his ribs and shoulders, distorts his body or thrusts his hips whilst blinking one eye as he tries to gain control of his body. This embodiment of multiple isolations are intimidatingly complex and would put shudders up any dancer. Much of this articulation wouldn’t sit out of place in a hip hop work, as popping, locking and robotics inform the grounded fluid vocabulary that ripples through Monckton’s body. He adds to this a certain finesse and personality that no dancer will ever deliver without a training in clown. A section built entirely out of the idea of making two different animal noises assigned to a hand, then crafting them together as they clap to form an explosion of guttural noises feels like and maths lesson and a zoo visit rolled into one. It is delivered with such conviction and dedication that the audience are contributing eee-awws and squawks before you know it.

The piece is over far too quickly, which speaks volumes for the pace and dynamics of the work, however it teeters on the edge of a demonstration of beautiful clowning technique and something more than the sum of its parts. Lacking a larger context, or bigger picture from which to draw or allude to, I am left wondering – “Why?” And I almost feel guilty for saying so. Cleverly billed as part of London International Mime Festival, the Soho Theatre are showing the work along side several other Edinburgh Festival Fringe works that were hot topics of conversation among the critics’ in the summer. Only Bones is a strong contender of a high quality season of devised work that Soho Theatre are showing in a mini fringe festival. As I knock back my wine in the intensely buzzing bar, the rolling press video above my head reminds me of the incredible work I stumbled across last summer with a few new ones to boot. I promptly make plans to bring my friends to see Police Cops – one of those chance drunken findings that went down a treat at the Pleasance – and Letters to Windsor House which I didn’t get to squeeze in at the Festival. I wonder off feeling quietly impressed at their programme and reinvigorated after a so far average season of theatre reviewing.

Only Bones runs through 4 February.

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