Flesh And Bone: “pulls you in by the scruff of your neck”

Unpolished Theatre co-founder Elliot Warren on bringing “loud mouths of the East End” to the West End in acclaimed play, Flesh And Bone.

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“Growing up in Essex, in a little two-up two-down with my mum, I always wanted to be an actor. I only started boxing because I wanted to be Rocky Balboa or Jean-Claude Van Damme in Kickboxer. I only started slicking my hair and doing up the buttons on my blazer at school because I watched The Godfather.

“To me, theatre and film was all Hollywood and pearly whites, little golden men on plaques, three-tier auditoriums, musicals, lights, money and fame. It wasn’t until Mrs Stewart and Miss Roberts, my drama teachers, sat my mum and I down at a parents’ evening at school – just after a proper telling off from my French teacher – and made my mum cry tears of joy, that I realised acting wasn’t some unreachable feat. It wasn’t only for kids that could afford drama schools, kids with paths pre-carved by their pushy parents, it was a platform for expression.

“I never looked back.

Flesh And Bone at Soho Theatre (Image: Owen Baker, courtesy of Chloe Nelkin PR)
Flesh And Bone at Soho Theatre (Image: Owen Baker, courtesy of Chloe Nelkin PR)

“I have always seen my Essex accent as a positive. I wear my roots proudly when stepping into the world of theatre. It’s a quagmire of ‘lovies and darlings’ and you can sink rapidly if you don’t stay true to yourself. It’s a tough one to stick to, especially when you reach drama school and everyone is attempting their very best RP (Received Pronunciation) accents. By all means, crack on and have a go, but remember your individuality and what makes you who you are.

“A working-class voice in theatre can be a moving one, in every sense of the word. It demands, and it pulls you in by the scruff of your neck. It doesn’t apologise and it is ever-changing, fresh and exciting.

“I wanted Flesh And Bone to be precisely that. I was sick of spending way too much money to sit too far away in the theatre. On many occasions, I’d come straight out of the theatre and the first thing that came from my mouth was ‘What should we eat?’

Flesh And Bone at Soho Theatre (Image: Owen Baker, courtesy of Chloe Nelkin PR)
Flesh And Bone at Soho Theatre (Image: Owen Baker, courtesy of Chloe Nelkin PR)

“Now, in no way, shape or form does all theatre do that, otherwise I wouldn’t have got involved in the first place, but I found myself itching to create something loud and in-yer-face, something that evoked the same energy as I was giving while trying to climb the industry’s ladder as a working-class actor.

“Flesh And Bone came from my love for characters, especially ones which I knew well – loud mouths of the East End! That is where my family are from. The character and richness of those fantastic human beings is infectious.

“My grandad is an absolute legend. He’s a jazz singer and even in his dressing gown on a Sunday morning, he still upholds this look of some great and suave East End king.

“I now live in Dalston, on an estate. Again, the people around us, good and not so good, are walking theatrical sensations.

“At the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, we fought hard to be seen and heard every evening. We wanted to be on everyone’s lips and we achieved that. We bagged a bunch of awards, more stars than you could shake a stick at, a trip to Australia and development work at the National Theatre Studio. It felt like standing atop a mountain after the magnitude of effort we had put in to make  sure our show stood out and was enjoyed.

“Bringing the show back to its home in London is a fantastic feeling. We couldn’t have asked for a better place for it than Soho Theatre. A theatre that Olivia [Brady, co-founder of Unpolished Theatre] and I had said it would fit perfectly before pen was even put to paper.

Flesh And Bone at Soho Theatre (Image: Owen Baker, courtesy of Chloe Nelkin PR)
Flesh And Bone at Soho Theatre (Image: Owen Baker, courtesy of Chloe Nelkin PR)

“The journey Unpolished Theatre has been on with the show has been wild. It has shaped and carved the beginnings of my career as a professional writer and an actor.

“It can be harder coming from a working-class background – it feels as though there may be more groundwork to put in. You may have to fight a little harder to find those rehearsal spaces and get those platforms. But when you do, people will listen and you will be heard.”

Flesh And Bone runs at Soho Theatre until 21 July.