Dancing to the beat of the body.
Kallo Collective’s Only Bones has a deceptively simple set-up – onstage there is only performer Thom Monckton, limited to a small red circle lit by a single bulb. But by sheer virtue of a boundless imagination and complete control over the body, Only Bones ends up as a wildly entertaining fringe show that exemplifies a class act in clowning.
The performance begins in quietude, our attention focused on Monckton’s hands (his face remains obscured by a cover). Palms and fingers begin to resemble undersea creatures as they ‘float’ under blue light, like prehistoric plankton that hold in them the potential to evolve and become anything they want, as they rise to the ‘surface’.
It is this potential for anything to happen that makes Only Bones spark such joy, each scene infused with a high dose of mischief that only adds to the laughter. In one scene, a pair of feet in socks is joined by a surprise third leg. The imposter tries all ways and means of getting between the original pair, only to be stopped by another hand, descended from above to catch the miscreant. In another scene, an ‘itchy hand’ keeps trying to scratch the corner of a board, much to the annoyance of the other hand, or two hands in a fingerless glove transform into a beating heart. Even without showcasing his face or any words, Monckton has so much control and mastery over his limbs that every movement is precisely calculated to produce intent and emotion to tell a crystal clear story.
Only Bones keeps the momentum going by revealing more of Monckton as the show goes on, and keeps upping the ante with his increasingly eccentric antics. His body appears unruly, with his own head uncooperatively heavy as it lops to one side, refusing to go where he wants it to. When he does finally gain control over it, he triumphantly shows off by holding his head firmly in place while the rest of his body moves. A man with a plasticine face, there is exquisite control over his exaggerated expressions, each one more extreme than the last, and seemingly able to control every muscle independently of each other.
Monckton also uses sound to great effect, toying about with his hands as he uses them to represent two different animals (recognisable by their moos or barks) and smooshing them together to create an entirely new hybrid sound. With a cheeky chef’s kiss of satisfaction each time, he encourages the audience to volunteer our own sound effects, and to our delight, uses them in his act too. Always, Monckton plays with our expectations and constantly subverts them, shockingly dark or mature moments made funny, whether having his hand animals cannibalise each other, or the censoring of a raunchy romance between two hands used to explain his birth.
Even after doing so much, Only Bones still manages to end on a high note, with an extended dance sequence set to a heavy bass tune while incorporating squelchy, bone-crunching sounds that Monckton contorts his body in time to. The result is simultaneously hilarious and undeniably strange, encapsulating the unbridled fun of this physical theatre show. Much like the plankton at the beginning of the show, Monckton is a man whose body has the potential to become anything he puts his mind to, and with Only Bones, has crafted a uniquely quirky form of physical theatre taken to its limits. While most performances adhere to the idea that the bigger the better, there are times where smaller, more intimate productions are just as effective, and certainly, more than enough to activate the magic of live theatre.
Only Bones ran from 3rd to 5th June 2022 at the Esplanade Theatre Studio. More information available here
Flipside 2022 runs from 3rd to 12th June 2022 at the Esplanade. Tickets and full programme details available here