Pros: The devil is in the detail: a compassionately crafted show.
Cons: Issues with the flow of each segment of the show in to the next.
A piece of staging advice on the inside of the playtext of Hole reads ‘The word “Big” can mean any number of things. This might mean people who occupy their bodies in space in a way that feels radical or powerful’.
If I was really feeling this Wednesday Humpday, I might leave the review there as it sums up the tone and sentiment of Hole at the Royal Court. Languid, though, is the opposite of the emotion that Ellie Kendrick’s work imprints on the spectator, to be carried out of the theatre door. This show is Big. The message is Big: women must be heard. The performers are radical and powerful, and they use every inch of their bodies so that their energy fills every corner of the theatre. Without spoiling too much, the beginning establishes a tough historical trope to shake: the silencing of women. Spotlights swallow the women whole, microphones cut out and the loud sound of a ticking clock stops the women in their tracks.
Once this silencing has been established, the play’s work begins. The pressure that has been put on women is made metaphorical through transformation into a black hole: an ever-amassing entity that is threatening and powerful. An accumulating bank of experiences make lucid and unavoidable the message that the women will be heard. Six women communicate their presence, their voice, and their personal and collective power through a series of monologues, songs, physical theatre, musical interludes and spoken word, amongst other things.
Hole is directed by Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland of RashDash, who have made their name in creating their own shows (such as Two Man Show) which are rich with physical movement and spectacle. Their distinctive style is seamlessly woven into the production’s fabric. Their movement direction is breath-taking: the ensemble of women lift and navigate each other’s bodies to make clear a whole spectrum of emotion in just seconds. Where the monologues in the play can momentarily isolate the women in anger, frustration, or in individual empowerment, the choreographed sections bring the sense of unity back to support the overarching character of the play.
The cast are a strong ensemble. They work together to radiate the collective fury that burns at the heart of the play. There’s a real victory in how this show manages to incorporate its thematic concepts into the visual: the cast and the lighting, set, and sound make graphic the blatant anger that drives the play forward. However, the play does have real issues with the flow of each section’s connection into the next. The stylistic strength of the show paints over the cracks in Kendrick’s script. There is nothing at all wrong in theatre that is unsubtle, but as Hole makes its point early in the play, it might benefit from some thought about how to thread its elements together to create more coherent narrative progression. This would be possible to do without harming the emotional integrity of the show.
However, the activist spirit that this play emits is an example of how theatre can spur an audience on to think about their part in the big picture of making the world a better place for women. This is culturally important as these conversations are more frequently occurring in the mainstream, and I can’t wait to see more of Kendrick’s work.
Author: Ellie Kendrick
Director: Helen Goalen & Abbi Greenland
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking Link: www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/hole/#book
Booking Until: Saturday 12 January 2019