WHAT IF NOBODY CAME TO RESCUE YOU?
Flight BA043 has crashed on an island. Stranded, four survivors wait. Gus, Marie and Ian are colleagues who were on their way to a conference, whilst the other is a lone teenage girl, Erin. Surely somebody will find them. Planes don't just disappear, do they? After trying to send out a Mayday message through the radio, they are stunned to discover that a nuclear catastrophe has wiped out the entire civilised world. So, if no one's coming... what do they do now?
Tom Basden's play Holes is an apocalyptic comedy in which four survivors of a plane crash realise they may be all that's left of the human race. It's absurd, hilarious and fast-paced. The playwright is one of the sharpest observers of politics and society around and is responsible for some of British TV’s most acclaimed recent comedies including ‘Peep Show’, ‘Fresh Meat’, ‘Plebs’ and ‘The Wrong Mans’.
It is directed by Anne-marie Greene (Mindgame, Let the Right One In, I Am Shakespeare).
'Lost ‘ meets ‘Lord of the Flies’ ... quick, sarcastic and agreeably grisly'. The Times
‘ . . . fast-paced and relentlessly funny'. A Younger Theatre
Review by Chris Arnot on behalf of www.elementarywhatson.co.uk
There’s been a plane crash. Oh yes, and a nuclear war. There are four people left on earth. On a desert island, as it happens. Desert Island Risks might have been an alternative title – the risks being all too evident as the packs of chicken chasseur and mushroom risotto rescued from the plane begin to run out. Or go off.
A collection of Jamie Oliver recipes, also from the plane, are not much use when fundamental ingredients are in short supply.
There’s also the risk that the two male characters, Ian and Gus, might strangle each other before the end of the first half, such is their animosity. They are colleagues from work who had been on their way to a conference, along with HR manager Marie. HR stands for human resources, of course. And the company deals in demographics –statistical data relating to the population and groups within it.
There’s plenty of that in Tom Basden’s bleak, black comedy. Some telling lines, too -- about the human condition in general and Englishness in particular.
Anne-marie Greene’s direction makes the most of a splendid sand-strewn set, designed by Terry Cornwall, and brings the best out of a talented cast.
Jon Elves plays Gus, a somewhat one-dimensional character embittered before the crash and imbibing prodigious quantities of duty-free spirits once he has failed to make contact with the wasted world beyond the island. Pete Gillam gives a fine performance as the more complex Ian, apparently relishing the chance to dig and build rather than prod computer keyboards and stare at screens. Karen Evans captures Marie’s superficiality with fine comic timing. Rubbing in factor-15 and beaming back at the sun, she seems to think that she’s been handed an unexpected holiday. Not for long, as it turns out. The fourth member of the cast is Erin, a teenager who has lost her parents. Kelly Davidson gives us a sense of an innocent, shocked and baffled girl having to grow up fast.
By the end of the play it seems that Ian and Erin have become Adam and Eve, set on begetting a new human race.
Fantasy islands are all the rage at the moment, though they’ve a long history. Tom Basden’s dystopian comedy, Holes, sees four people stranded on a desert island after a plane crash. Were that not disaster enough, the whole world has exploded around them in a nuclear catastrophe that means they are the last remaining members of the human race. Yet these are no heroes. Some people might remember the TV series Lost, in which a group of people are similarly stranded. They were all, to my recollection, extremely camera friendly types facing dangers from without and well as within. Not so here. In this riotously funny, very British comedy, the characters are more at home in an office than posing valiantly on the beach.
Watching this I could not help thinking of Jean Paul Sartre’s comment that “hell is other people.” These are not folk most of us would like to spend much time with on holiday, never mind a desert island for life. They bicker, squabble, seduce and fight with each other. Yet there is a beautiful pathos to their behaviour. They are us, stripped of the comforts of our civilisation.
That characterisation, like the acting, is superb. Gus (Jon Elves) is the cynical realist who falls into a destructive despair unable to envisage a future. His one liners are sharp, beautifully timed. Ian (Peter Gillam) is the one destined from birth “to earn good money in an office,” who beneath the hapless Frank Spencer type comedy discovers in himself a will to go beyond himself in ways he never expected. Marie (Karen Evans) is the former HR executive, single, frustrated, shallow and sexy, whose lack of understanding of their situation highlights the reality of it. And Erin (Kelly Davidson) is the young girl who with teenage wit and wisdom sees through the nonsense of the adults, and on whom the human race of the future comes to depend.
The play is crowded with absurdist jokes and demands a considerable suspension of disbelief. My rational mind could spot numerous unanswered questions. How for example are they unaffected by nuclear fallout? How do they actually feed themselves once the supplies from the plane are gone? How does Gus survive for so long in the pit into which he is cast by Ian (a brilliant piece of stagecraft btw).
Yet the play is so thoroughly shot through with warmth and humour that its plot holes and its darker themes pass unnoticed on the night, and are not really the point anyway.This is truth, not fact, and the full house found it hilarious and moving throughout. The beautiful, sensitive production and the clever, seemingly simple set deserved every jot of approval.
It’s a powerful opening to what promises to be another great season at the Criterion.