Review: Bones (Park Theatre)

Theatre company Redefine and rugby mental health charity LooseHeadz have collaborated to present Lewis Aaron Wood’s deeply physical and visceral drama Bones at Park 90.

Ed (Ronan Cullen) is the star player on the rugby team, but the euphoria of winning the game soon flips to an aside, which shows the turmoil within.

Wood’s play focuses on the camaraderie of sport and the scrum, the culture of jokes, name calling, and booze, and the unsympathetic nature of what it traditionally means to “man up”.

Production photo for Bones

Charlie (Samuel Hoult), team skipper and Ed’s best friend, and Will (Ainsley Fannen), the team’s sarcastic clown, are the mates who don’t get their teammate’s behaviour.

Ed’s dad (James Mackay, who also plays teammate Ollie and other minor roles) tries to support his son but they are both grieving for the wife and mother ripped without warning from their lives.

Daniel Blake, in his professional directing debut, impresses with the scenes of testosterone-fuelled tackles, training, and disagreements that are on the edge of escalation.

This is a raw and brutal piece, and the actors rise to the challenge. In the movement on the pitch and in the training room, bodies move in a rhythm of teamwork, a dance of competitive flight.

Production photo for Bones

At close quarters, you can smell the leather, feel the spit and sweat, and experience the pub and locker room. Set on a square of grass representing the pitch’s safe space, Bones is intense from the first scene.

Tackling men’s mental health in sport is a timely topic as we hear stories of players going unsupported and going off the rails. Ed increasingly displays behaviour to cause concern, but so do his teammates, downplaying his pain and assuming beer and shots to be the solution to all.

Although Cullen is very good, it is Fannen’s character arc which most impresses as the first to show concern for Ed, while Mackay convinces at the parent who wants to connect with his son, but doesn’t know how.

Hoult has the trickiest role as he seeks to understand people beyond the mechanics of the team as cogs in the rugby wheel. He is the person who can and should be the one looking out for those on his watch.

Production photo for Bones

While, at times, Eliza Willmott’s sound design threatens to drown out moments where we need to listen, it is an absorbing element within the play.

At 80 minutes, Bones skims the surface of male depression and anxiety, but kickstarts an important and necessary conversation around the need to protect and support those who play.

Bones continues at the Park Theatre until 22 Jul: tickets here.


Image credit: Charles Flint Photography