Review: Hole (Royal Court)

”Game of Thrones” actress Ellie Kendrick’s first play is staged by RashDash’s Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland

Ebony Bones and Cassie Layton in Hole
Ebony Bones and Cassie Layton in Hole
© The Other Richard

God knows what the Game of Thrones fans will make of Hole, Ellie Kendrick's playwriting debut. Though to be fair, I've never watched Game of Thrones – maybe Hole's high energy, tongue-in-cheek mashup of Greek mythology and particle physics would be right up their street. At the very least, the luxurious faux fur panelling on Cécile Trémolières' audacious costumes would surely have some appeal.

Hole is about female rage. A response to millennia of women being raped, blamed and denied the opportunity to tell their own stories. Many of the points that Kendrick is making are hardly subtle but this bluntness is partly the point – the time for subtlety has long gone. Now is the time for shouting, singing and stomping, for an explosion of pent-up rage equivalent to all the aggression and injustice that has been perpetuated on women by men for all these centuries.

The play's anger is palpable but it's also empowering and entertaining. The ensemble cast speak Kendrick's lines with a twinkle in the eye, luxuriating in the violence of the play's imagery and taking a morbid, ironic pleasure in the descriptions of the grim treatment of mythological figures such as Medusa. There are plenty of moments where the production misses the mark or overplays its hand, but with an ensemble as charismatic as this one, it's easier to overlook Hole's flaws.

Directed by Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland, Hole bears a lot of the hallmarks of the pair's work for RashDash, the experimental, women-oriented theatre company they run with Becky Wilkie. Bold contemporary dance sequences; nudity that is about being human rather than being sexy; thumping live percussion (provided here by composer and ensemble member Ebony Bones, who steals the show in her handful of onstage appearances); generous use of blackouts and strobes (lighting designer Katharine Williams really earns her fee here, to the point that those prone to migraines might want to give the show a miss).

It all adds up to quite the spectacle, especially when you consider that Hole has a running time of just 65 minutes. Here and there the onslaught lets up – such as when Cassie Layton plays a few bars of solo saxophone following a raucous ensemble number about Pandora and her "bottomless box" – but it's no time at all before the sensory overload begins again.

Where recent RashDash shows have felt intellectually joined up, the series of performative happenings – and the ideas behind them – that make up Hole cohere less well. The notion of female experience being exposed to such pressure for so long that it is transformed into a black hole, the densest, most powerful and ineluctable force in the universe, is an intriguing one. And it's engagingly explored in Goalen and Greenland's staging, but it bears too little relation to what's come to truly satisfy as a metaphor.

That's the case for many of the ideas in the play. They come across as dazzling in Goalen and Greenland's vision for the show – a vision well supported by the witty interactions between Emily Legg's sound design, Williams's lighting cues and Trémolières' surprising sequence of costumes – but stand up less well under more rigorous examination. That's no reason to write Kendrick off however. Hole represents a daring start to her career as playwright. What she follows it up with will certainly be interesting to see.