Hole is a piece of theatre that has been in incubation for a long time. Yes, the play’s title is a reference to an actual mechanised chasm, which swallows each of the show’s six female performers in the opening five minutes. But it also a reference to a long-standing social injustice that spans millennia and is visible across multiple civilisations: the practice of flinging female achievements, female-led work, and female narratives into the pit.
Hole is a major achievement, which raises an executioner’s axe but does not commit to the final swing.
This story is about what happens when women climb out of it.
Ellie Kendrick is a writer who knows her mythos. From Greek constructions of the universe, to modern scientific understandings of it, Kendrick weaves together principles of storytelling with principles of particle physics. Her written style straddles the ancient and the modern, and under direction from Rashdash’s Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen, the ancient and modern are transposed into the contemporary. This is unflinchingly about the here and right now, about you as an audience member, and the performers as women. It is a pugilistic bar brawl rather than a military coup, in which you are forewarned well in advance via direct address that plenty of things are going to be smashed.
Which leads to one of the immediate ways in which the play exposes its own message – there is perhaps not enough smashing. There are scenes in which bananas are eaten. And in which history is eviscerated and shown to be a masculine-owned narrative that frames every social zeitgeist from the earliest settlements in the Bronze Age to today. And there are plenty of full-ensemble musical performances which are unafraid and vibrant. These scenes are all simultaneously mischievous and deadly serious, and rebellion pervades every second. Yet in forewarning the audience that they are witnessing a great paradigm shift, and that there will be casualties (an unfortunate consequence of this sort of thing), the play shows remarkable clemency. There are no bodies. In the final blackout, I felt entranced by the performers and the work they had done. But I also felt like I hadn’t seen the slicing of a societal jugular that was promised. The play gets close to spraying the warm blood of injustice across the floor, but doesn’t do so.
Although it may not rend apart injustice, Kendrick’s script does turn the tables on narrative traditions in storytelling. Myths are exposed for what they are – the whispered jealousies and insecurities of powerful men. Medusa is vilified because she was the survivor of a rape, a powerful figure of Gaia acts as percussionist in the rafters of the Jerwood Upstairs, and there is a delightfully dark scene in which the Furies are arrayed across the theatre whilst a monologue gets steadily more unrepentant and blood-hungry.
The design of the play deserves rapturous applause. Costume design, lighting design, sound design and technical engineering all complement each other to a really effective degree. There is something in Hole which I have never seen before, a particular costume which bends and shatters light into a thousand isolated and prismatic parts. The visual effect of this rippled across the audience and remains one of the deeply resonant and still images from a rapid and relentless play.
Hole is a major achievement, which raises an executioner’s axe but does not commit to the final swing. There’s a slight problem of not feeling a hammer-blow, of leaving without feeling the emotional sucker-punch of a meteoric theatrical impact. Yet Kendrick’s script has isolated islands of expression that feel essential. Hole is at its finest when it feminises the universe – from the smallest particle to the greatest, galaxy-gorged black holes; and, like the titan Atlas, the ensemble cast carry Kendrick’s message on deeply adept and weathered shoulders.