Tambo and Bones, Theatre Royal Stratford East, 2023
Photo: The Other Richard
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Recommended


Tambo & Bones

4 out of 5 stars

Dave Harris’s satire in three very meta acts is a gloriously irreverent joyride through Black American archetypes


Time Out says

US poet and playwright Dave Harris’s ‘Tambo & Bones’ is a funny, filthy, often gleefully ridiculous satire about the African American male experience as embodied by the two title characters: Tambo (Rhashan Stone), a thoughtful, troubled guy concerned with the betterment of Black America and the expansion of its consciousness; and Bones (Daniel Ward), an incorrigible hustler almost entirely fixated on how much money he can make out of any given situation. 

When we first meet them, they’re dressed in battered, silly minstrel outfits, stuck in an overtly artificial, cartoonish-looking field. Tambo is trying to have a nap. Bones wants to get some money out of us, the audience. They bicker and debate and come up with various harebrained schemes before realising something is off and that they need a more contemporary way of telling their story/making a shitload of money. In the next scene, they’re reborn as an old-school rap duo, now espousing their worldviews in rhyme.

Rude and ridiculous and anchored by two full-bodied performances from Stone and Ward – who absolutely go for it with the rapping –‘Tambo and Bones’ is a blast. Yes, it’s also a consideration of African American male archetypes and the Black American dream. But it’s a very irreverent one, something underscored by a totally out-there third act that I don’t want to spoil too much apart from saying Kloé Dean’s choreography for the two, uh, robot characters is absolutely sensational.

As near as I can tell, Harris’s play actually got a pretty tepid response in the US. Clearly a satirical show about the African American experience is liable to land differently in this country than in the States. Still, reading a couple of US reviews I can’t help but feel we probably just have a better production. A versatile director with a knack for direct audience address – be that the creepy stand-up comic in ‘Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen’ or the sprightly puppets of ‘Hey Duggee!’ – Matthew Xia gives us a vivid, bone-crunchingly intimate joyride of a show. There’s a wilfully thrown-together quality to Harris’s writing, like he’s amusing himself by riffing out ever-wilder ideas. But the care that’s gone into the production is palpable, from those immaculate robots to the bombastic beats of the rap tracks (co-produced by Xia himself). 

Xia’s co-production with Actors Touring Company received some unwanted early publicity, due to elements in the rightwing press having a freak out over it having a single ‘black out’ performance, aimed at Black audiences only (it’s this Wednesday – July 5 – if you’re interested). No, ‘Tambo & Bones’ is not an anti-white play: the third act actually features an extremely amusing gag about the fact the audience is liable to be mostly white; the fact this will be turned on its head at the blackout performance is just another sign of the play’s drolly meta brilliance.


£10-£37.50. Runs 2hr
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