In the Bones
Root and Branch Productions
Hope Aria House, Manchester
One of the many terrible things about grief is how it narrows perception and entitles us to think we alone have been affected by the trauma and so can ignore the suffering of others. For most of us, this enjoyable self-pity eventually fades; however, Cody Daigle-Orians’s In the Bones concerns a character so lacking in empathy as to remain sunk in morbid grief.
The unexplained suicide of ex-soldier Luke (Jesse Wright) has a devastating impact upon his partner Ben (Ben Sherlock), his sister Chloe (Sherelle Armstrong) and Aunt Kate (Prue Griffiths). While the characters, over time, come to terms with their loss and are able to move forwards in their lives, Luke’s mother Dee (Julie Root) remains sunk in grief. But then, as Dee’s homophobia may have contributed to Luke’s suicide, perhaps she is simply feeling guilty; or perhaps not.
In the Bones is structured as a series of conversations and confrontations with little physical action. To offset the static nature of the play, director Joe Geddes aims for a warm atmosphere with family photographs on display all around the theatre. Luke’s home movies are broadcast on twin TV screens to give exposition and a degree of variety. The tone is respectful, as if all involved are determined not to trivialise the sensitive subject matter.
Cody Daigle-Orians treats his characters without mercy—bringing them onstage only when they contribute to the point being made and getting rid of them as soon as they have served their purpose. The sensitive performance of Ben Sherlock, moving Ben from devastated mourning to justified resentment at his treatment by Luke’s family, seems to be shaping the character for a pivotal role. However, once the point is made that Ben has learnt to cope with the tragedy, we never see the character again. Similarly, Luke Goddard’s Kenny appears just as Sherelle Armstrong’s Chloe is looking for someone to share her positive outlook on life.
It is a fine cast but Julie Root’s fine performance as Dee stands out. Dee is devoid of empathy and constantly reinterprets Luke’s suicide so as to make it about her suffering. Dee enjoys the self-pity so much she maintains her mourning for years and criticises her family for their failure to share her grief. Yet Dee is a complex and disturbed character and it seems as though she is constantly seeking out new ways to take offence. When she becomes aware her homophobia prompted Luke to conceal his sexuality, her reaction is not guilt but rather outrage at him keeping a secret from her. True to her perverse approach, Dee denies herself relief or redemption, preferring to continue suffering.
Such a character could become unbearable and Root does not tone down the monstrous nature of Dee. Root does, however, create a fascinatingly ambiguous character. Her performance is so anguished it is hard to be sure if Dee is in genuine pain or trying to gain sympathy from her family.
In the Bones opens as a study of the ways of coping with grief and concludes as a powerful examination of a deeply disturbed character.
Reviewer: David Cunningham