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Hole review at Royal Court, London – ‘reverberates with feminist rage’

Scene from Hole at Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, London. Photo: Richard Davenport
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Women, as everyone knows, have no body hair. We are naturally smaller, quieter and more polite than men. We like nothing better than to be looked at and admired. These, and other myths, are in for a dark and bloody deconstruction in Hole, the debut play by actor and writer Ellie Kendrick, in which mythology is ripped to pieces and reconfigured as a source of ferocious power.

Kendrick’s text is formally loose, vivid, furious and funny, directed by Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland of the feminist theatre company RashDash. At its best it’s thrilling; sometimes it’s just chaotic. There are images, both physical and lyrical, of piercing beauty and delicious wit, alongside
sequences of music and movement that resemble a drama school improv class. Some moments I loved; others made me want to scream. It’s perfectly possible that this effect is intentional.

The black stage sparkles and is striped, in Katharine Williams’ brilliant lighting design, by a roving spotlight. A woman enters through a circular hole in a pink velvet curtain and slides down a pole. She stands at a microphone. A clock ticks. Something has happened to her, something bad. She needs to speak, but the light keeps snapping away from her. She says “sorry” again and again. The mic stutters and cuts out. The clock stops, a buzzer sounds – time up, too bad.

Other women follow her. One shrinks herself as the circle of light becomes a pinprick, until she completely disappears. Another swaggers on like a stand-up comic, and starts coquettishly telling a rape joke that turns out to be the story of Medusa. Even her crowd-pleasing schtick can’t save her.

Then we’re ricocheting through time and space, through ancient Greek tales of vengeful Furies, harpies and goddesses, and into the glittering infinite of quantum physics via drill music and Beyonce (“Do not, under any circumstances, interrupt our grinding!” command the women).

They’re a mutinous Chorus, rewriting and starring in the narrative; they appear with wings, fur and feathers or in see-through baby doll nighties, embodiments of reviled and adored femininity, chewed up, digested and remade as vengeful super-beings, twinkling particles of matter or all-consuming black holes. The ideology is not always articulate; the passion has undeniable force.

There’s such pleasure in watching the company of six seize the space, in their refusal to be manageable or elegant, in their uproarious contempt for men who command women on the street to smile, or who continue to ignore the swelling tsunami of change that’s been such a long, long time coming. Rage and frustration blaze throughout this play – but so does hope. It’s a riotous, ragged, wild thing with the glimmer of magnificence among its flailing and its flaws.

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Ellie Kendrick’s flawed but ferocious debut play reverberates with feminist rage