Monday, 30 January 2017

Chapter 173: Thom Monckton/Kallo Collective: Only Bones

"Thom Monckton just filled the whole room with super talent and energy by using just one square meter."
- Heidi Niemi (Lumo Company)


The stars were aligned the other evening for a trip to Soho Theatre. At the top of the escalators at Leicester Square, off to the Mime Festival*, I bumped into a friend bound for the Vault Festival, travelling in the opposite direction, both of us on the right track. Red lanterns festooned China Town, celebrating the Year of the Rooster, and I was on my way to see Lecoq (ze rooster?!) trained Thom Monckton in Only Bones.  I had been looking forward to seeing this show since summer, hearing about it on Twitter from those reporting back from the Edinburgh Fringe, where it was a huge hit. Actually, I think I first heard mention on Gandini Juggling's feed, which strikes me as apt, as Thom Monckton and Gemma Tweedie created the show for the Finnish Kallo Collective, and if I were to describe Europe in circus terms the Finns would be the jugglers, intelligent, curious and oddball. Gravity pulls.

It struck me, as I took my seat, that the last time I had been at Soho Theatre was to see Trygve Wakenshaw's show "Nautilus" last year. Like Thomas, Trygve a New Zealander who trained in physical theatre in France (at Gaulier). Both guys are brilliantly funny, but in different ways, as you would expect from performers whose comedy derives from their physicality - Trygve is tall and blond, Thomas is medium-height and ginger.  Actually, I had no idea what to expect. I log reviews but don't read them until afterwards if I have any intention of going to see a show. And if you haven't seen Only Bones yet, but are intending to, I'd recommend you do the same.

Hands materialised beneath a spotlight. Only hands. They flexed and rippled, sending waves through the ether as patterns morphed into storytelling. I loved the jellyfish bobbing along, and when the hands cupped it felt like watching a ball of energy materialise between them. That is the true power and the art of mime: to make visible the invisible. The soundscape was subtle, a barely perceptible undercurrent, then now and again Thom's own voice would join in creating its own special effect, but through noises, not words. The use of a spotlight was clever as with a click the stage could be plunged into darkness to cut to the next scene, and whip out a prop. A threesome of feet fought for space in the bed, until an imposter hand was revealed to be the interloper. Knobbly knees revealed their own funny bones, hands tangoed in a flirtation of red nail varnish and then found love in the beating heart of a glove. That was one of the most beautiful images I shall always carry with me. 

I wondered for a moment if we would see the rest of the body. I was curious. What did Thom have for a face?! Turned with his back to the audience, hands played with his hoodie to suggest a head, but there was nothing there. And then. Then turned round a kind, generous face and I knew he would not disappoint. Playing with a cartoonish plasticity of expressions, Thom proceeded to discombobulate. There is no other word for it. It is extraordinary the way he can disassociate parts of the body, only bones, with a life of their own. He brought the audience into play, throwing out animal impersonations and inviting us to suggest more. The way the lighting was set up it felt as though Thom could see the face of every member of the audience and the sensation reminded me, not unpleasantly, of being back in a warm-up exercise in my very first clowning improv class. Still, I swallowed my voice, not sure why as with Thom you feel in safe hands, but it was probably because all around were so vocal there was really no need for me to join in the fray (or bray!). 

Throwing, and catching, cues, to the side, was Gemma. Both a discreet presence and integral to the performance, she was the outside eye who was inside the frame, the backbone to Thom's funny bone. Read the programme afterwards, there are some brilliant anecdotes that give some insight into their humour and creative synergy, quite some double act. At the end, there is a line. Just one humble line that really was a slam-dunk in a tour de force of a performance. I'll say no more. You have until 4 February to get your body over to Only Bones at Soho Theatre ( - click here).

Click here for teaser trailer.

Performed by: Thom Monckton
Created by: Thom Monckton and Gemma Tweedie
Sound design: Tuomos Norvio
Production: Kallo Collective
Co-production: Aurora Nova

*London International Mime Festival (LIMF): (click here)

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