Fringe Online 2021
With Jermyn Street’s Tom Littler has again led a groundbreaking team. The smallest producing theatre in the West End through lockdown has become the largest. The Footprints Festival boasts 43 shows acted live and streamed online over three months.
Hannah Morrish both writes and stars in the solo show Hole. Directed by Emma Butler. Kay Hustwick deploys a spectral sound design. Lighting by Johanna Town’s a single stark, almost merciless glare throwing shadows, then tenebrous in a shift of storytelling. Production Manager Martin Bristow, Stage Managers Katy Gerard, Timesha Mathurin, Trainee SM Sophie Jefferson. Production Assistant Kayleigh Hunt. Camera work from several angles (Director Mark Swadel, Operator Balazs Weidner), including seventy-five degrees overhead, are deftly sequenced. Till May 27th.
A story about hunger? A starkly lit bare stage anyway. A young woman barefoot, vulnerable in simple black attire, in mourning for herself, gives reasons for it. Gives a gaping hole for it.
We last saw Hannah Morrish as a radiant Helena in the magnificent JCT All’s Well in November 2019, after various other acclaimed Shakespearean roles at the RSC and NT. Morrish – already one of the finest Shakespeareans of her generation – here speaks for herself, in her own solo drama, Hole.
This goes nakedly into storytelling. Morrish’s gifts as an actor rivets us, her debut talents as a compelling dramatist provides the fuel, the food. There’s deeply sculpted lighting shots of Morrish’s head. Nowhere to hide. Directed by Emma Butler. Kay Hustwick deploys a spectral sound design. Lighting’s by Johanna Town – piercing white, sometimes in shadow, or blues and reds at moments of depth and inferno; sometimes in concert. It’s a virtuoso display of following, even anticipating the text. Everything in this pared-back production has to be pristine and supportive; under Butler’s direction it is.
Hole, the character’s eponymous signifier is a twenty-year old student actor living with her mother. Hole has EDD, an eating disorder, plainly stated by a health professional her age. On that bare stage Morrish spellbinds with an account of how this impacts. Just as Hole explores the shamanistic kick of acting.
The way Morrish narrates this you feel it’s a peculiarly close fit for actors. She plays with the fictive notion of this as at least peripherally observed. It’s meant to be edgy.
And we’re at drama school. Hole’s encountered a certain lack of give in herself. Just like her superbly over-controlled dead-behind-the-eyes Antigone speech which the tutor says he flatly doesn’t believe, twice; to the class’s schadenfreude. Underworld, depths. A failure to ‘drop through the trapdoor of herself’ as her tutor puts it.
Claptrap perhaps, but uneasily Hole knows her gaping chasm, this void, is also why she’s hollow as a student actor. Now a pariah to strong students confidently planning their future, Hole feels she has to fill it.
So what happens when a keyhole’s aperture appears in her stomach, and a child rocks up? A child not like Alice. Head shaven, boiler-suited with a key round her neck. And an invitation for the narrator to unlock herself. ‘Open that trapdoor of myself…’
And we’re in a woman’s hollow wonderland, ancient trees graining the room, floorboards softening; hand in hand, they clamber down.
Lighting changes abruptly to an ultramarine dark later fretted with blood-red: a dead landscape – an Apocalypse Now of childhood, past memories: a go-cart, an orange trapeze. Out of this emerges another level, a pool to dive in, memorable imaged. The golden child’s ‘a beautiful shaven-headed seal pup’ and an immersion leading to a remarkable ‘whole’ Doppelganger. A whole self, but something dark attends her. Then a plumbed level, to face something obscene, terrifying. What Hole sees will not be unseen. And who’s the child? What memory haunts the narrator?
This might sound Grimm’s fantasy. It’s instead a beautifully crafted tale drawing on the logic of the just-left conscious world for its subterranean reflex, repeats of phrases and imperatives now turned rich and strange. And there’s a choice. Litanic phrases return to morph to their true meanings. Morrish’s gifts as a storyteller reinvent archetypes, anneal them to something other.
Morrish begins by addressing a macrocosm of hunger, hunger for change. She ends on a different mission to the one she thought she was undertaking. The narration’s compelling, not in the least self-regarding. Imagery like the child’s ‘glowing lighthouse of herself’ is precisely memorable, signifying its dramatic place. However rich it’s an economical text, tested by Morrish so she can deliver it with total – and tonal – conviction.
It’s also a compelling human analysis many will recognise; others may wish to take it up. But don’t miss the chance to see this transcendent actor prove she possesses another dimension altogether.