Only Bones 1.0 – Thom Monckton

The show is called Only Bones, which is confusing given that its performer, Thomas Monckton, doesn’t seem to have any. His playful, hypnotising, deceptively simple part-clown-part-physical-theatre act makes you forget how the human body is supposed to work, to the point where this man could collapse into a puddle of sludge on the floor and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

It treads the line between the whimsical and the grotesque.

Under his single light bulb, Monckton deconstructs his own body and moves with an elegant, chilling precision that’s impossible to look away from. His charismatic hands are pulsating jellyfish, a gory fighting couple, Monckton’s own parents, or opposing sides in a full-on war. These stories, with their various idiosyncratic characters, are funnier, more relatable and more moving than they have any right to be given that they are comprised entirely of Monckton’s erratic hand movements and slick vocal sound effects.

Monckton has such astonishing, masterful knowledge of the rules governing his body that he’s able to break them. Three feet? Done. A face you can mould like clay? Easy. He takes your dad’s clown routines and elevates them to the sublime. When he struggles to get his tongue back into his mouth, it behaves in perfect accordance with the laws of gravity, mischievously escaping from his lips with a personality of its own. In one of his most impressive bits, Monckton can’t keep his head on his shoulders - instead, it flops around on the end of a flimsy neck that looks like it’s about to snap. His struggle to keep it upright is a piece of physical theatre so breathtakingly convincing that you begin to wonder how you’re able to do it so easily yourself.

There is also an element of intentional unease to Only Bones. Under the harsh light, Monckton’s distorted face looks creepy, and his small stage - defined by a glowing red circle - makes him look isolated and alien. Objects appear during short blackouts as if by magic, and Tuomas Norvio’s stellar sound design accompanies some unnerving movement sequences. Make no mistake, though - Only Bones is a very funny show. It treads the line between the whimsical and the grotesque, and to brilliant effect. The slightly disconcerting aesthetic is what the show needs to balance out its wackier moments, and it adds a welcome twist to the archetypal, exuberant clown show.

At times, Monckton makes his movements look so easy and understated that they feel underwhelming, although this is more of a testament to the quality of his craft than legitimate criticism. There isn't much here in the way of plot or social commentary to give the piece a distinct purpose, but then I don't imagine that this is what fans of clowning are looking for.

Only Bones is best in class - it’s wildly entertaining, which is all it really needs to be. Physical comedy fans of all ages needn’t look much further than this unique, surreal performance - Monckton’s standing ovation tells us that much. Just make sure you go in with your head fixed firmly on your shoulders.

Reviews by Solal Bauer

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Only Bones 1.0 – Thom Monckton

★★★★★
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Performances

Location

The Blurb

On a tiny set lit by a single bulb, endless possibilities are illuminated. Wordlessly using body manipulation, dance, circus and clownery, Only Bones' quirky low- tech aesthetic strips the stage down to one performer, one technician, one light, no text and a stage area of little more than 1m2. With head juggling and jellyfish this is a hypnotic show about a lot, using very little. NZ Fringe award winner in physical theatre, 2015. ‘A glorious salute to one man's remarkable physicality’ ***** (Herald). ‘Mind-blowing’ ***** (AcrosstheArts.co.uk). ‘...extraordinary inventiveness created by a limitless imagination’ (Theatreview.org.nz).

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