Bones is Peter Straughan’s dark comedy concerning the convenient appearance of Reggie Kray upon a 1960s Gateshead porn cinema, financially doomed and threatened by a local gangster who is demanding money. In a bid to raise the cash, Ruben – one half of the management team made up of Jewish half-brothers – decides to kidnap the gang lord and charge £4000 in ransom. Gradually manipulated and spun into a web of falsities, assurances and insecurities, the staff at the cinema can no longer trust one another, nor can family bonds be respected as sacred.
The play itself is flawed inevitably. It touches on numerous plot lines which it does not provide resolution to, or explain fully. We are given glimpses towards a past twin for Ruben; this mystery is intriguing but all we learn is that he was killed in a fire. Equally, some rather poignant themes regarding identity, and what it means to be Jewish, are brushed upon so softly that when offered the opportunity to begin to interrogate social issues, we rue it being so drastically pulled away from us.
This production approached this with plenty of pace; rather than dwelling on the plays failings, it ploughed on through with a character led narrative. Charlie Harris’ Ruben stood out for his internal transitions: early on, he is pragmatic, using the capture of Reggie to the benefit of the cinema, yet later on becomes an idealist, searching for co-operation with the gangster to change the life he lives and loathes. Such nuances exist simply in the way he holds the gun: when pointing at Reggie, his finger is not on the trigger, but when aimed at Beck, his finger is firmly poised, willing and ready to shoot.
Lucas Rushton’s Reg is intriguingly watchable, and draws attention to his sheer command of the space he can maintain in the room. His best moments come when tied to a chair and blindfolded, his voice nevertheless proving able to manipulate those who have kept him captive. Moon, a cross-dressing worker at the cinema, whose chief role is to clean punters’ semen from the floor, was played enthusiastically by James Harrington who exhibited some great coming timing, though the sheer number of costume changes made in such a short space of time – when other characters made none – begs the question as to whether the role was utilised, perhaps, for its comedic purposes as opposed to some of the interesting moments in which his worldly naivety is exposed.
The roles of Benny and Beck, written as male but transposed to female in this production, were played by Karina Hunter and Zoe Head respectively. In the world Straughan has created, this does not entirely work as undertones of brotherly conflict and family history are emphasised less. The characters seem too brash for the channel which they are provided, particularly Beck. Karina Hunter does provide some elements of humanity and rationale to the play, though, which makes her death feel more tragic than perhaps Straughan deserves credit for. She cares for each of her employees somewhat, and can see the web of lies that has been spun around her brother, though it is too little too late.
In short, the play is irreconcilably flawed. It feels remarkably dated, very two-dimensional and rushes through the themes it claims to care most about. This production creates five strong characters, driven by Harris’ performance, that seek to tell a story which does not feel like it urgently needed to be told. Yet the quick pace and occasional dark humour ensure that something is made of the nothing provided.