Theatre review: Gym Party | Holes
Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Gym Party at Summerhall (venue 26) and Holes at Assembly George Square (venue 3), reviewed by Joyce McMillan
IT’S obvious, on this year’s Fringe, that many people who have grown up in Britain since the 1980s share a very negative view of human nature. People are greedy, cruel, selfish and shallow, runs the theory, and anyone who pretends otherwise is a hypocrite; and it’s surprising how much of the so-called comic drama around the Fringe seems to exist only to reiterate this skewed vision of humanity, as shrilly as possible.
So it’s good to report that Gym Party (* * * *), the latest show from the inventive London-based group Made In China, dares to push this theory of human nature to absurd extremes, the better to deconstruct and destroy it. The scene is a school gym, where three slight and youthful performers – Jess Latowicki, Christopher Brett Bailey and Jenna Watt – line up in shorts and T-shirts, topped by lurid blue and orange wigs, to take part in a high school competition.
For a slightly tedious 45 minutes, they play competitive games, often involving invidious popularity polls in which the audience take part; the joke is that while they all keep announcing an ethic in which competition is good, in fact they are visibly seething with loathing and resentment. Towards the end, though, this initially sarcastic and whimsical show gathers itself into something more powerful, as we see the actors lose the plot completely, and begin to inflict serious torture on each other.
The point seems to be that if we accept without question a culture of rampant individualism and competition, we end up robbed of both empathy and morality. And if this vivid show spends too much time reifying the culture it finally begins to challenge, it still raises the right questions in the end, with some energy and style.
Tom Basden’s Holes (* * *), by contrast, is a much more elaborate production that ends up affirming every right-wing cliché in the book about human nature and its limitations. The audience boards a bus at George Square, and is taken to a not-very-secret location, where we walk by the sea for a bit, before settling down to 80 minutes of conventional four-handed drama, presented on a high circular stage covered with sand, in a large municipal hall.
The scene is a contemporary desert island, where two men and two women find themselves stranded as the lone survivors of a plane crash. The joke – if it is a joke – is that even in the presence of mass death and a possible global catastrophe, the three young executive types among the survivors just keep bitching and rowing in the same old office style; until one of the men eventually emerges as the dominant male, rapes the 16-year-old girl who has also survived, and sets out to found a new civilisation based on his ideas and genes.
It’s a repulsive story about repulsive people, competently acted, and briskly directed by Phillip Breen. As an insight into ordinary human nature, though, it’s useless to the point of tedium. And the only interesting thing about it is the loud laughter it attracts, from those so heavily invested in this dark view of humanity that they would apparently laugh at anything, provided it supports the idea that only fools would attempt to create a world any kinder or better than the miserable one portrayed here.
Originally published in The Scotsman