On a remote desert island Ian (Jack Smail) and Gus (Calum Wragg-Smith), quite possibly the last two men left alive, stand before sixteen-year-old Erin (Alice Palmer), quite possibly the last girl left alive, and explain to her that she must soon become the mother of humanity 2.0. Why should I? she asks. Because it’s right, says Ian,
How do you know it’s right? Why is it so dangerous and painful if it’s right? Why do children scream so much when they’re born if it’s right? Maybe it’s not right? Maybe they scream because they’re fucking furious that they’ve been born into this shit.
Here, Erin’s quiet anger perfectly captures the overall tone of Tom Basden’s dark tragi-comedy, and Palmer’s portrayal is dripping with sage scorn for the two men whose squabbling destroys what remains of her meagre existence.
Erin’s innocence, independence, and even life are threatened from all sides throughout the play. Before her coerced maternity, the hilariously vile Marie (Sophy Dexter) attempts to ‘teach’ Erin how to dress and behave like a woman. But despite her eloquent rejection of gender performativity, Erin is powerless to stop Ian in his attempts to repopulate the earth with her. The harrowing final act opens with a heavily pregnant Erin shuffling onto the stage. This grim spectacle was perhaps the most brutal moment of theatre I witnessed at the Fringe.
“Holes is so powerful because it stages the psychological drama we each experience every day”
The performance is made so compelling by its restless oscillation between comic and tragic. Jack Smail’s superb portrayal of Ian as a David Brent-esque corporate bore makes the chilling point that repression and self-deception are essential attributes for survival. At the close of the play when Calum Wragg-Smith’s brilliantly wry and miserable Gus shouts out of the hole in which he has been imprisoned to be allowed to escape or die, Ian fills the hole with earth. To tolerate life on the island, Ian must destroy that voice which calls out for decency and dignity, and by the same means that he always managed to convince himself that the world of boardroom meetings and office small-talk was worthwhile, so too does he steel himself to carry on living in utter depravity.
“This grim spectacle was perhaps the most brutal moment of theatre I witnessed at the Fringe.”
Thus, Holes is so powerful because it stages the psychological drama we each experience every day; the only way we can tolerate our existence on this stage of fools is to ignore and repress the extraordinary suffering and injustices in the world. But the wit and panache of this latest staging of the play makes it hard to leave the theatre too deep in despair.
Tom Basden’s Holes by Lyons Productions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, C South, 2pm, 14th-20th August.