Reviews Edinburgh Published 11 August 2013

Holes

Assembly George Square ⋄ 16th, 17th, 18th, 23rd, 24th, 25th August 2013

On the beach.

Alice Saville

“Just my luck, a transport cock-up.” Tom Basden’s play opens with three office workers stranded in sand and a litter of salvaged consumer goods. They won’t make their conference, and the two-hundred-and-something dead back on their crash-landed plane are unlikely to have much luck getting to Australia either. Production company The Invisible Dot have put the audience through what feels like a similarly epic journey, at least on lazy saunter-up-the-Mile Edinburgh Fringe terms, busing us out of town for a cumbersome start to a play that, crash-landings aside, isn’t too far out of the ordinary.

Basden’s career has combined working in sketch groups, writing for TV (Fresh Meat, Plebs) and doing stand-up comedy, a mixed heritage that shows in his polished, snappy dialogue, extracting neat laughs every few lines. The group of characters he’s managed to assemble is motley bunch – two of them are reasonably naturalistic, and two are caricatures, like escapees from a slightly more scathing The Office spin-off.

Gus (Matthew Baynton) is clearly designed to be the outlet for our sympathies; an office outcast, he has the pain of missing his children amplified by having to deal with the big, desk-raised kids Marie (Katy Wix) and Ian (Daniel Rigby). Marie is a monstrous, perfectly-performed creation, who treats the escapade as one long beach holiday. As Head of HR, she inevitably has to be awful at human relations, treating the teenage Erin (Bebe Cave) as slave labour with manicured aplomb. Ian rivals her impressive output of non-sequiturs and daft questions, converting the language of logistics to the task of mass burial with pen-pushing equanimity.

As the deadening influence of air-con offices wears off, Ian livens into a one-man ambassador for Englishness; speaking in cliches of keeping calm and carrying on, or of fighting them on the beaches. Gradually, ‘them’ morphs from the nameless, invisible forces of foreign ignorance and vulgarity into anyone who disagrees with him.

Hilariously inadequate attempts to record human knowledge – 1066 and all that for what remains of the known universe – give way, inevitably, to talk of propagating the species. Meanwhile, Gus tips into alcoholism, and Erin is disappointingly submissive, more teen lackey than teen spirit.

Although much of it relies on the simple trick of having people talk like they’re in an office when they’re actually in a apocalyptic nightmare, the dialogue is very funny. There are plenty of safe, but satisfying digs at illogical dietary preferences and holiday reading, and the plot is snappy enough to create moments of real shock. But as Ian slips into a kind of IT-world Forrest Gump and Gus gives up, their debates start to feel like squabbles in a sand-pit. There are some interesting themes, but things like Ian’s nation-building would be sharper if they were current, seen in the context of the EDL or Queen-worship or the Coalition’s patriotic re-jigging of the history syllabus.

After a long preamble – half an hour on the coach to a mystery destination, a walk along the streets of Portobello, Edinburgh’s seaside – its strange to be met by a reasonably ordinary play, in an ordinary theatre. Admittedly, you couldn’t build Rhys Jarmen’s twelve foot high, sand-topped cylinder in an hour-long turnaround, but the megalithic stage doesn’t feel practical from an audience perspective, any more than it would to a grumpy stage manager; the sightlines are suspect and the blocking leaves anyone sitting on the actual stage looking at a lot of backs of actors’ heads.

This is all grumbling from a Punchdrunk-primed critic with a faint suspicion that the bus and fuss has built a buzz around a show that people wouldn’t get too excited about otherwise. It’s a genuinely funny show with sitcom polish. What it doesn’t do is use the extra two and a half hours embedded in its time-slot to break out of the small screen, to claw at its audience and make them think about what the end of the world would actually feel like. A stroll along the beach, an entertaining show, but not earth-shattering.

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Alice Saville

Alice is editor of Exeunt, as well as working as a freelance arts journalist for publications including Time Out, Fest and Auditorium magazine. Follow her on Twitter @Raddington_B

Holes Show Info


Produced by The Invisible Dot

Written by Tom Basden

Link http://www.assemblyfestival.com/

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