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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Hole
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs   December 2018

This is exactly the sort of play and production the Royal Court should be giving space and support to. I say that even though it is not wholly successful and can only be recommended to those eager to see fresh imagination and inventiveness for its own sake, without demanding clarity or even coherence.

Playwright Ellie Kendrick has something to say, and directors Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland have ways to say it. But they are a little more concerned with cleverness than communication.

The hourlong play opens with a string of brief scenes in which women attempt to speak – at least a couple of them about being attacked – only to have an unseen force stifle them by turning off their microphone, moving the spotlight or sinking them into a stage trapdoor.

Only later in the evening, after a few more oblique sequences, are you likely to realise that this opening was a symbolic representation of the way women are silenced or marginalised in real life.

That mode of using an inventive but private and too often opaque symbolic vocabulary will run through the hour. The six actresses then emerge from a different hole in the stage and declare themselves to be the Furies, escaping millennia of imprisonment and really, really angry.

They narrate some Greek myths – Medusa, Prometheus, Pandora – from a feminist perspective and then announce that they're going to kill, maim and destroy anyone who gets in their way.

As with the opening section we may get the general point – women are angry – while much of the specifics remain unclear. And now things really approach incoherence.

Somehow all that accumulated anger onstage opens a black hole – a real physical imploding star that sucks up the entire universe until nothing is left but blackness. Except that a voice in the darkness tells us that stray surviving atoms are bumping into each other and connecting, and it is all beginning again.

I'm going to make a leap of faith and say the message of the play is that societal abuse of women has gone so far beyond repair that the only solution is to junk it all and start all over again. But through a combination of private imagery, insufficient concern for the audience's ability to keep up, and a bit of self-indulgence, writer and directors haven't really helped very much with that guesswork.

As might be expected from the founders of the highly inventive physical theatre company RashDash, Goalen and Greenland fill the hour with striking visual imagery and demand very physical performances from their actors. There is almost as much singing, dancing, chanting and structured movement to the hour as there is speaking.

Lights flash, spotlights roam the stage, one performer appears briefly in a mirrored dress that turns her into a walking disco ball, and – perhaps with unfortunate unintended symbolism – whole sequences are played in the dark.

That some loose sense of what is being said comes through is remarkable since so little of the creative energy of play or production seems devoted to communication. And so I can't recommend this to the casual theatregoer.

But if you want to see evidence of some of the sorts of theatrical invention that are being explored by creative theatrical artists, even if they don't quite add up to success, you may find much to intrigue you here. And I salute the Royal Court for giving it a platform.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Hole - Royal Court Theatre 2018  
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