In London theatreland, 2018 has come very close to feeling as it if has commodified female rage. It’s been a dream to see so many women/womxn creatives let loose to shatter notions of gender and gendered behaviour, but you can’t help but think, yeah, I’ll come back in a couple of years and see how much latitude we get given by the industry then.
There’s a fear, deep in my bones, that these productions have been permitted, even encouraged, because it’s seen as ‘the right time’ to get the crowds in and sell tickets. That’s not that I haven’t enjoyed them, I most definitely have. And Emilia, Dance Nation and The Writer, amongst others, have rightfully earned their place on many year-end ‘Best Of’ lists.
But I just wonder… Have the patriarchal power structures that continue to dominate this industry approved even allowed these shows to take to the stage because they see the pound signs as a cert? Have they really taken on board the message?
And, more than this, even with this welcome flood, has something still been missing?
You see, Hole was the first time this year I felt that the female rage on stage directly threatened the comfort of the audience. That it finally captured an emotion so powerful, so menacing, that it flowed out in gushes from the creatives to confront each person watching.
Hole is lavish in its unsettling effect, its ability to shock, stun and seduce its audience. And that made me feel very good indeed.
This was a very different emotional state from other productions – Emilia was celebratory and defiant, Dance Nation excelled in its tangled mess of adolescent fears, and The Writer was an incisive intellectual exercise.
But Hole is rage. It is unadulterated and unchecked. Yet what lifts this from a single-tone production is the complexity and layers writer Ellie Kendrick and directors Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland (two-thirds of RashDash) have given to us.
Let’s get this straight – this has to be the most diverse cast I have seen on stage this year and they deliver a masterclass in stage craft with a production that simmers with movement, poetry, prose and music, and a show that blends drama with humour, and a terrifying and terrible thirst for blood-letting justice with love and care.
Hole is feminine and savage, brutal but sensual. And it brought life to my veins.
The play opens with a spotlight and a ticking clock. The ensemble, one by one, creep out from the shadows to speak up. To be heard. They gingerly take the single microphone but as soon as they open their mouths, the spotlight shifts. They chase it but the ticking clock speeds up. It gets louder as they chase the spotlight in circles until, finally, the light is extinguished, the microphone switches off. And the women are silenced.
And so we begin…
Hole is, of course, a beautiful and provocative single word. And a literal hole in the ground opens up and the ensemble – now harpies, the Furies and the Fates – crawl out from within to reclaim the stage. “We’ve been guarding the gates/Now we’re throwing them open.” Only this hole is a lavishly feathered pink/purple velvet hollow that is so richly textured that it must be so smooth and luxurious to the touch.
And it is this direct threat mixed with such hot sensuality that is Hole’s hallmark.
The physical presence of these women is tremendous. Some seem hostile and intimidating, others appear kookier and more unhinged. There are those who are quiet and those unafraid. But each is powerful and glorious. Which is, of course, the point.
The poetry and music tumble forth. Ebony Bones is a musical force and she is surrounded by such bright stars. The delicate and demure Cassey Layton has the most dazzling moment of the show in a shattered glitterball of a cat suit that is the high watermark of Cécile Trémolières’s terrific design but the 75-minute show is littered with tremendous moments.
Rubyyy Jones shines like the star she is, bringing her burlesque experience to the fore to demonstrate the difference between nakedness and nudity. But her larger than life character is a highlight as she giggles and laughs through a terrifying speech: “We are not accountable if you drive us mad./And you have been driving us mad. /And we are ready to feed.”
Add to this such wonderful dance and movement, especially from Eva Magyar, and a perfectly balanced segue of scenes and unravelling and you can’t help but admire the potency in this production.
Or so I thought. For I’ve read a couple of odd, middling reviews for this show and, I have to say, I don’t get it. This is in no way a three-star show; this is something very special indeed. And one far cleverer and with more skill and craft than it has been credited with.
Ellie Kendrick uses the weight and passage of time as a supple connecting theme that strings these moments together. The Fates and the Furies bellow the wrongs levelled at Medusa as if they were happening today. Which of course they are. And the weight of rage is equated beautifully with the infinite mass of a black hole – one that is lasting and total and just.
And the use and selection of language is so clever, here. Particularly so in the brilliantly executed monologue from Rubyyy Jones where she talks with a sensuous greed about eating men, and how she will relish putting on weight from devouring them whole. There’s so much going on here, from the unsettling language to the embracing of eating, which is too often a basic need that women are compelled to be ashamed of.
But it is Hole’s unsettling power to unnerve its audience that is its true achievement. The Fates and Furies aren’t interested in a fourth wall. They wail and laugh in our faces and thrust themselves in our direction. They are truly taking up space and no lines will be respected. And as darkness slowly descends across the auditorium at the finale that ticking clock can be heard once again. Only this time the clock is ticking not for women but for men. We are coming full circle. And you have been warned.
Royal Court Theatre, London, to January 12, 2019.
Tickets from £15.
All production photos by The Other Richard.