A play set in a 1960s porn cinema on Tyneside and involving the two Jewish proprietor-brothers does not immediately appear to be an ideal night out at the theatre. But this revival of Peter Straughan's 1999 black comedy, a co-production between Newcastle's Live Theatre and the Hampstead in London, soon dispels any fears of that.
The brothers, who are on the verge of bankruptcy, owe the local gangsters a lot of money and have only a few days to pay. Until Boxing Day, that is, when the infamous Reggie Kray just happens to call into the cinema and is kidnapped. The first half of Bones is high comedy, with the characters given space to develop nicely before a change of pace after the interval paints things much darker, releasing inner demons and raising the emotional stakes.
Each of the five cast members demonstrates total control over their characters and work together well as an ensemble. You never doubt for a moment that David Cardy's Reggie Kray is capable of gangland killings, even when he's fighting his captors, naked apart from socks and a blindfold.
As younger brother Ruben, Jonathon Slinger is damaged goods, slightly unbalanced and easily plugged into the hatred which brings him under Reggie's sway. Meanwhile, older brother Benny (Deka Walmsley) vainly ties to maintain a semblance of order, while Trevor Fox and Michael Hodgson are the unfortunate cinema employees caught up in the action.
Director Max Roberts has ensured this production tests the audiences every emotion, turning side-splitting laughs one moment into stunned silence the next. At no time is the audience given any chance to lose interest.
The violence and other shocks are all the more startling encapsulated as they are in Perry John Hudson's intimate set - there's no hiding or subduing anything here - which uses every inch of space to its full capability.
A final word of warning for any of a more sensitive nature. Bones contains very strong language, male nudity, dramatic visual effects and a disturbing story line. With all that, it is also one of the funniest plays I've seen in a long time.
- John Dixon (reviewed at Newcastle's Live Theatre)