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Muddy theatre review: Holes

An exhilarating new stage adaptation of Louis Sachar’s award-winning ‘90s YA hit novel Holes, that will enthrall both kids and adults.

Holes kicked off its UK tour at the Royal and Derngate last week, touted as a gripping, heart-warming new stage adaptation of Louis Sachar’s multi-award-winning 1998 YA novel and Disney blockbuster starring Shia LaBoeuf, Patricia Arquette and Jon Voight.

I’d never read the book or seen the film, being, ahem, a little older than its teenage target audience when both came out. But when I asked my neighbour, who is in her twenties, about it, she lit up. Then I found out that one of my friend’s kids in year 7 is studying the book and film this term. So pretty current then.

Adapted for the stage by Sachar and directed by the Artistic Director of Nottingham Playhouse Adam Penford, Holes tells the story of Stanley Yelnats (played by James Backway) who finds himself blighted by a curse on his family and punished for a crime he didn’t commit. Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake, where the delinquent inmates are made to dig holes in the desert each day, supposedly in a bid to strengthen their character. But all is not as it seems, as Stanley “digs a little deeper”  and soon unearths the dark truth about Camp Green Lake.

With the action of the play slipping between past and present, we see a picture of an America blighted by a history of racism and misogyny, and a generation striving to transcend the follies of their forebears as our heroes in orange jumpsuits, Stanley and his cohorts Zero, Armpit, X-Ray and Magnet, overcome the repetitive and destructive tropes of the past and, quite literally, stop digging those endless, pointless holes. It’s a heavy story with a lighthearted touch that makes it utterly inspiring, tragic, moving, hilarious and the perfect night out for any budding Greta Thunbergs out there and, well, anyone with a sense of humour and a social conscience.

My ten-year-old plus one didn’t disappoint: she was gripped from the word go as the cast danced in electrifying routines to familiar tunes (Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros’ Home  and Rockwell’s Somebody’s Watching Me), and cruel grown-ups in stetsons got their comeuppance. She was particularly satisfied by the use of female actors to play male or typically ‘masculine’ parts in a modern day subversion of theatre’s historical exclusion of women, which they’ve studied at school. Leona Allen as Zero and Joëlle Brabban as Magnet inhabit their roles magnificently, whilst The Warden, played by Rhona Croker, is breathtakingly severe.

Holes uses dance, costume and puppetry (there are evil-eyed lizards and rattlesnakes that appear as a kind of malignant and threatening force throughout the play) to witty effect, and kids with a conscience will leave the theatre questioning you all the way home about things like social justice and when they can go to drama school.

Holes is on tour and will visit Nottingham Playhouse, Nuffield Southampton Theatres, Coventry Belgrade Theatre, Newcastle Theatre Royal, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Liverpool Playhouse, High Wycombe Swan, Norwich Theatre Royal, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and Canterbury Marlowe Theatre.

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