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Theatre Review: Holes at Nottingham Playhouse

7 February 20 words: Adrian Reynolds

Gold is in those holes: if you're eight (or ever were) just see it...

It’s rare to see a play that does so much, with such delight, in ways that are beautiful and clever and tug at your heartstrings. Holes does all that, and much much more, in a story based on a Louis Sachar novel, that straddles present day America, the old West, and a fairy story dark take on Latvia, where the tale has its roots. I’ve rarely seen a piece as accomplished, a creative and technical feat of plate-juggling that delivers a big emotional drama with laughs, dancing – and most of all, yellow-spotted lizards…

Holes is about teenager Stanley Yelnats, who finds a pair of sneakers that turn out to be the very valuable property of a celebrity. Cops aren’t convinced by his claims of innocence, and he ends up sent to be what’s allegedly an activity camp. In practice, the only activity is to dig a hole five feet wide and the same deep, every day - for as long as it takes to be rehabilitated.

I’ve rarely if ever seen a show that held together quite so well

Stanley is introduced to other youngsters who’ve been captured, and a sinister TED talk-styled camp counsellor. After that, things get… complicated. But only when you put them together in a straight line. The way they’re presented works breathtakingly well. Despite the number of actors, the use of multiple props, the stage being used to create imaginary spaces performers create through their gestures and sound effects, plus puppetry (those yellow-spotted lizards, not forgetting a rattlesnake and a tarantula), everything is crystal-clear throughout.

There are no holes in Holes. I’ve rarely if ever seen a show that held together quite so well. A big part of that is respect for its audience, many of them children. Adults might not want every plot element tied up, but one mark of the show’s respect for smaller people is how the script and performers find ways to tie up loose ends.

On top of all that, it’s visually beautiful. The use of colour in particular is striking, sometimes breathtaking, as the story shifts from one location to another and the characters discover the true nature of how they are connected across time and space.  For added pleasure it’s funny, with music and props used for precise effect. Director Adam Penford conjures wonders from a cast who I won’t list here in detail because they’re as good as one another. See it.

You can see Holes at Nottingham Playhouse until Saturday 8 February

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