It’s the end of the world and the only known survivors are three colleagues on their way to a conference and a sixteen-year-old girl. Marooned on an island, we find Marie (Elizabeth Berrington), a busybody head of HR who seems more concerned about rooting through the abandoned suitcases from the plane crash than thinking up a survival strategy; Gus (Mathew Baynton), a straight-talking realist with an unlikely penchant for Lionel Richie; and, juxtaposing Gus brilliantly, daydreamer, idealist and natural comedian Ian (Daniel Rigby). Completing the unlikely quartet is Erin (Sharon Singh) , a young girl who after a prolonged period of stunned silence reveals that she has been recently orphaned as her parents tragically died in the crash. Considering Holes centres around the bleak subject matter of apocalyptic survival, it may surprise you to learn that Tom Basden’s play is in fact an extremely funny black comedy.
In the centre of the Arcola’s pop-up summer tent venue, the stage is comprised of a circular sandpit. Basden’s flair for offbeat and slightly twisted humour is apparent from the moment that Rigby’s character, Ian, announces that he is going to dig graves to bury the fatalities using a children’s bucket and spade set. With only the remains of what was left on the plane, the group decide that their only means of survival is to resort to drinking the miniature beverages from the plane’s refreshment trolly. One of my personal comedic highlights is when gossip-filled Marie pilfers some Louboutin heels from one of the abandoned suitcases and insists on strutting around in them, despite repeatedly sinking into the sand beneath her. Alongside the humorous moments, there are also tense and dramatic exchanges as the group and young Erin in particular are faced with a series of morally complex dilemmas.
Holes is a fine example of character-driven drama; engaging protagonists portrayed by this impeccably talented cast mean that although very little action occurs, Holes is utterly captivating from start to finish. I think it is largely due to the natural rapport and on-stage chemistry between the small cast of four. Rigby in particular, with his James Corden-esque and charismatic delivery, is a true delight to watch.
I found the ending of Holes unexpected, bizarre and, for a play that has otherwise been of staggeringly high calibre, a tad unsatisfying, which I thought was a real shame. That said, for the most part Holes is witty, funny and a sand-filled corker of a play.
Holes is playing at the Arcola Tent until 9 August. For tickets and more information, visit the Arcola Theatre website.
Photos by Idil Sukan.