As the audience files into the dark Rialto theatre space, a lonely figure paces across the stage, dressed in baggy tracksuit bottoms, a grubby white T-shirt and baseball hat, angrily drinking a pint of lager and staring with hatred at a pram. This vessel of pent up rage is nineteen-year-old Mark, played with complete conviction and confidence by Dominic Thompson.
Spoiler alert: it’s not a comedy. There’s nothing funny about despair
The object of Mark’s hatred is his baby sister who never warrants a name, born to his heroin addict mother, also nameless but described in stark, dysfunctional detail. He hates this baby for making his mother’s already chaotic life worse and spends the first few minutes of Bones explaining the various ways and methods he has dreamed of to dispose of her. None of what he describes should be funny, but somehow the writer, Jane Upton, manages to dredge up small pockets of humour from this young man’s desperately depressing life, even if the laughter also feels uncomfortable.
Through flashback scenes we get a glimpse of Mark’s life before his mother’s addiction took hold, although this life was in no way idyllic. The childlike Mark describes with absolute glee the simplest of family events, romanticising what should be normality. But Mark’s life is far from normal, although depending on your life’s circumstances and the circles you mix in, more common than we would like to admit. Just take a look at the streets of any city in the UK and you will see hundreds of Marks: gangs of disaffected youths damaged beyond reason by a dangerous home-life mix of anger, addiction, alcohol and abuse.
Mark describes a family holiday to Skegness with his mother and grandfather when he is an eight-year-old boy. At first he tells the audience of his excitement at the prospect of days at the beach, but the idealistic reality very quickly turns into an absolute nightmare of blood, brutality and bile. The clever use of simple props sees a stool become Mark as a toddler on his grandfather’s shoulders, to the unresponsive arms of his drunken mother as he tries to dress her, and a simple grey hoodie transforms into a prostitute.
Dominic Thomspon owns the stage as the damaged, sometimes sensitive, but ultimately doomed Mark and delivers his heartfelt hour-long monologue with brutal precision and bitterness. The flyer warns there are graphic scenes, and the effect of seeing Thompson’s full frontal nudity is surely designed to shock.
Birmingham based Gritty Theatre seems bent on a mission to educate audiences to the harrowing subjects contained in Bones. Gritty by name and gritty by nature, this type of theatre is not for everybody, but for those with a wish to stare into the depths of society’s bleakest existence, Bones certainly presents an extremely realistic image. Spoiler alert: it’s not a comedy. There’s nothing funny about despair.