Hole – Old Red Lion Theatre, London

Reviewer: John Cutler

Writer: Hannah Morrish

Directors: David Fairs & Conor O’Kane

“It’s a story about hunger” the eponymous Hole, who has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, tells us at the outset of Hannah Morrish’s watchable single-hander. That is true, although Hole is also, variously, a dream-like riff on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a Freudian fairy-tale of exploration through the unconscious, and an emblematic nod to elements of Greek mythology. Morrish’s symbolism can feel a tad over-egged at times but the piece undoubtedly delivers top-notch direction, lighting, and sound design from David Fairs and Conor O’Kane.

Hole (a sparklingly energetic turn from Japanese Canadian performer Matsume Kai) grows up suffering from a chaotic, never-ending cycle of binge eating and fasting. Her mum hides cereal boxes and her clinicians offer up helpful diagnoses. But nothing can bring order to the chaos. “What are we going to do with you… there’s nothing going on inside” says her drama-school teacher as he tries to coax the girl into delivering a tune from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

Then one day a trapdoor appears in Hole’s torso. An unnamed 8-year-old girl with the look of a glowing “shaven-haired seal pup” appears with the key. The girl, ego to Hole’s superego, perhaps also the ferryman to Hades, invites our protagonist to step symbolically and literally inside herself. Down the rabbit hole into the underworld, she goes, in search of the leak inside her soul – the one that makes her want to eat and eat and eat.

What follows is a kind of archaeological excavation through the detritus of Hole’s childhood. Think an extended psychotherapy session on the set of Orpheus and Eurydice. Amongst other things, our protagonist encounters a child’s go-cart, symbol of lost innocence and unfulfilled desires (one almost expects it to be labelled “Rosebud”). There are suitcases (lots of them onstage) too painful to open. In a nod to the topography of the Greek underworld, Hole’s rabbit hole is a place of many rivers. Fairs and O’Kane’s very good soundscape gives us waterways in flood, lashing rain, howling wind, and thunderous and often jarring atonal music.

Deeper, underneath the drooping branches of a willow tree, mythological symbol of sorrow and longing, Hole encounters a perfect version of herself. But the “swirling void” still calls to her. So deeper still at the very epicentre of the pit Hole faces her inner-monster, an Iago-like Id that seethes with fear and hatred. Can she overcome the beast, seal the leak, and bring order to chaos? As if we have not had enough symbolism the show closes with a rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s Go Ask Alice. Hole is likeable and well put together, but my goodness you will need to be on your toes.

Runs until 22 June 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Symbolism heavy eating-disorder drama.

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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