I think I’m going to make seeing a play while I’m in the UK for Christmas a habit. I did it last year when I saw Belleville at the Donmar, and I’ve made the effort in previous years when I was around in London. I don’t get to see a lot of plays, so it’s good to try something different.
Which is incidentally why, after going through all my options for plays this year, I decided to see Hole at the Royal Court Theatre. It sounded like something different, was pretty short (only 65 minutes), and the line in the description is hard to argue with: We’re harpies. We’re a three-headed bitch. We’ve been guarding the gates. Now we’re throwing them open.
On the other side, I’m not sure if I can really describe Hole as having a plot, as such. It’s more a simple framework–women who have been attacked and buried by society rise up in anger and vengeance. To me, it felt kind of like a sixty-five minute monologue delivered by five (occasionally six) different mouths, with music breaks and dancing and some weird costumes. It’s a celebration of female anger on a bent stage.
We’re getting bigger. We’re getting wider. We’re gaining weight. We’re eating. We’re consuming. We won’t stop.
Alison Halstead, Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo, Rubyyy Jones, Cassie Layton, and Eva Magyar sing and dance and scream and whisper threateningly. They’re a diverse bunch of actors, a spectrum of size and color. They occupy space beyond their physical borders, unapologetically. Which is one of the big points of the production. You will not crush me. You will acknowledge that I am human and have a body that’s just as glorious and disgusting as any other human body. They move across the stage, use the vertical space in some really cool ways (swings and the like) and intrude into the space of the audience so you’re pulled in whether you want to be or not.
Honestly, the thing that startled me the most was that for about the last half(?) or so of the play, Rubyyy Jones performed topless. We’re not socially used to seeing female nudity in a setting that’s not about titillation or overt sexualization. And she was just… there. No winking or smirking or apology, a challenge to the audience visually to go with all of the words. I was glad. Rubyyy is fat, and it was powerful for me to see her out there like a human middle finger to all expectations and stupid social standards.
We don’t like being watched if we don’t want to be seen. But when we want you to see us, you cannot look away.
The costumes are interesting. The actors for Hole start out in regular clothes. After they’re “buried” and re-emerge in their new, incredibly pissed-off form, they’re wearing a sort of visually disturbing version of the babydoll nightie. Then they’re wearing things with strategically placed patches of fur, a reminder that they’re daring to sprout hair and have bodily functions. Then the sort of clothes you might wear to kickboxing. A lot of it takes the commercialized, acceptable idea femininity by the ear and twists it to say, fuck you, this is the reality of it.
And there are harpy wings. There’s a lot of Greek mythology references, because if we’re going to be angry about misogyny, might as well take aim at a body of ancient, woman-hating work that gets referenced often in western literature. On stage, they retell the stories of Pandora and Medusa, the deep, structural unfairness that carries on today. There are references to harpies and Cerberus and the hydra. There’s an entire section where they are the maenads. I mean, maybe the whole play is a divine frenzy of rage, but it’s patriarchy, not Dionysus, that’s driving them rightfully mad.
It’s not our problem. It’s just biology. We are not accountable if you try to drive us mad. And you have been driving us mad. And we are ready to feed.
The conclusion is that all this rage, all this feeding, becomes to massive that it collapses into a singularity, a black hole that will consume everything. If you continue crushing them down, they will reach critical mass. And in the end, it’s shockingly quiet after the raucous, strangely joyous assertion of personhood and rage. It comes down to the first woman who spoke (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo, whose character is an astrophysicist) at last telling her story (“I am matter. I matter.”) like she and the others weren’t allowed to at the beginning. (Maybe if they’d been allowed to talk instead of consigned to a hole in the stage, they wouldn’t have been so bloody angry, hm?)
The conclusion to this manifesto is so simple: I need you to listen.