Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton – until 1 February 2020
Reviewed by Megan Raynor
Holes, the story of Stanley Yelnats (the fourth) and his adventures at Camp Green Lake, holds a special place in my heart having studied it fondly at school and having grown up watching the film (2003). I was intrigued how Louis Sachar’s 1998 novel, set in the deep deserts of Texas, would be translated onto stage but I was not disappointed by this family friendly, charming piece with a lot of soul.
The story follows Stanley (James Backway), a young lad swamped in bad luck, bad luck that sees him sent to a juvenile corrections facility. It is far from the fun-filled camp that Stanley had in mind, the only activity on offer being to dig hole after hole after hole. It soon becomes clear that there is more to the digging than ‘building character’, there is history that needs to be unearthed. Adam Penford’s production seamlessly runs the two stories of Stanley’s past and present, discovering how Stanley’s ‘bad luck’ may have in fact provided him with the perfect opportunity to walk the footsteps of his ‘no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing great-great-grandfather’ and undo an ancient curse on his family. The parallel storylines relied heavily on multi-rolling, Matthew Romain and Elizabeth Twells should be commended for their almost constant character changes which they did with distinction.
Stanley quickly befriends a group of lads at the camp, each going proudly by their nicknames – X-Ray (Harold Addo), Magnet (Joelle Brabban), Armpit (Henry Mettle) and Zero (Leona Allen), who he creates a particularly special bond with. Allen’s Zero was wonderfully dimensional; unpeeling the layers of a frustrated, misunderstood young man who you can’t help but fall for. The dynamic between the boys is a joy to watch, albeit their banter and their brawls. The soundtrack, featuring Bruno Mars and Michael Jackson, compliments the camp life brilliantly with playful physical sequences.
Puppetry is utilised brilliantly in the piece. Simple but skilfully operated, puppets portrayed the array of critters found in the deserts – including the famous yellow spotted lizards. Much of the set used was simple, incorporating a variety of charming tools for story telling – the wooden ‘sandpit’ boxes worked well as the holes and complimented the wooden backdrop creating the vast horizon of the desert. The production felt fresh while still following closely visually and narratively to the film, it carried with it the same 90s charm. It is a heart-warming production that does not do injustice to the unique story telling of Louis Sachar.
Holes will continue its run onto Nottingham Playhouse, Coventry Belgrade Theatre, Newcastle Theatre Royal, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Liverpool Playhouse, High Wycombe Swan, Norwich Theatre Royal, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre and Canterbury Marlowe Theatre.