BWW Reviews: HOLES, Arcola Tent, July 22 2014
In this new comedy by Tom Basden, three colleagues and a sixteen-year-old called Erin find themselves the sole survivors of a plane crash. The set, at the Arcola Tent, is a sand-covered circular stage. The characters are wittily written: stranded on their desert island, they play out office politics and forage in the plane wreckage for useful goods: a radio, a stash of duty-free booze, books (most of which turn out to be Game of Thrones and The Fault in Our Stars) and 84 pens.
Daniel Rigby is a delightfully self-important Ian, a David Brent-ish middle-manager, whose survivalist ambitions blossom (fruitlessly) on the island. As he quickly seeks to take charge of the situation, he plans to get back to nature and 'do something with my hands' by building cabins, a rudimentary aqueduct and a chicken coop. When challenged about the coop (there are no chickens on the island) he says, "If I build it, they'll come.''
Meanwhile, HR manager Marie, played beautifully by Elizabeth Berrington, raids the suitcases of the dead for designer clothes and stumbles round in heels, lapping up the sun for her "seasonal affectation disorder", as she says. Gus (Mathew Baynton) is the most sympathetic of the three, mainly because he despises both his co-workers, has kids and has broken his arm in the crash. As the tensions grow in this new world of hoarded mini-sprites and vegetarian options salvaged from the cabin, sensible Erin (Sharon Singh), whose parents have been killed in the crash, is bullied by Marie. Erin is the rival, younger, slimmer source of oestrogen on the island and, when the group finally pick up a radio signal only to hear what sounds like the death throws of western civilisation, (or "some kind of mushroom bomb situation" as Ian puts it), she becomes the object of unwanted attention. As Ian's action man dreams become less benign, a mini-dictatorship takes shape.
Holes is set after a plane crash in a post-cold war dystopia which, for all its departure from the real world, is a disquieting subject for a comedy at the moment. Luckily, Basden (who has written for Peep Show and Fresh Meat) doesn't so much dramatise the catastrophe as consider how four people react to being the only ones left alive. A light-hearted first half is followed by a second half come-down, in which the character traits that made us laugh in the first half become a few shades darker and, unfortunately, lose us somewhat along the way.
Because the first half is full of excellent one-liners, with the characters well conceived, this shift in tone comes as a shock. The versatile cast does a good job of bridging the change of register, but the ridiculousness of Basden's set-up, which works for comedy, is a poor fit for serious drama. Holes is not without its flaws but it is full of really good jokes.