REVIEW: ONLY BONES (Soho Theatre) ★★★★★

The late, great Gregory Hines apparently used to say that that you should be able to dance in a space about a metre square. It’s a captivating idea: that precision and technique are all-important and that wafting about in the luxury of space is somehow cheating.

There are another couple of good reasons to confine yourself to a tiny performance space; it forces you to be creative and the audience’s eye is firmly fixed on you. There is nowhere to hide. This is one of Thomas Moncton’s self-imposed constraints, the others being: one performer, one light, no narrative and no text.

Only Bones is his short show, performed as part of The London International Mime Festival. He’s created it with his friend Gemma Tweedie who sits with a laptop outside his taped 1m circle and about whom he writes warmly in the programme notes. He tells us they “wanted to make a show that was bare and minimal, dark and harsh, funny and heartfelt” and they have succeeded beautifully.

It all kicks off with extremities. Only Thomas’ hands are lit and they move fluidly like sea creatures. Next he’s crouched over a chair and his feet start to take on a life of their own, jostling for space, fighting like children. Next there’s an astonishingly captivating scene starring his bare hands. Like the show itself, this is extremely well-paced. Initially silly an argument over a bottle of nail varnish becomes surprisingly moving.

Eventually Thomas’s whole body emerges into the light. He looks like a man unable to control his own body, his head refusing to sit straight on his shoulders, the whole body threatening to slowly collapse and his tongue lolling out of his mouth. His face contorts and twists, expressions remaining fixed until he shifts them with his hands. The irony of course is that immense control over the body is required to move like this. He has more ability in this regard than I have seen in some dancers. It’s mesmeric.

Only Bones? There’s a lot of heart and brains to this show too.

Reviewed by Alison Bray