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[Review:] GAPING HOLE (STORY #3), Ovalhouse, London.

Essentially, this performance divides itself into three sections, the first and second alternating between one another before moving on to the third. The first sees the two characters (played by Rachel Mars and Greg Wohead) address plot-holes in various movies; then, the second, using narration and literal storytelling, imagines scenarios which decode and demystify these plot-holes; finally, the third sees a shift in the entire performance as the characters speak to each other via epistolary monologues, detailing the plot-holes in their own personal lives (aspects of their own identities that do not add up) and imagining scenarios that would ‘fix’ these. It is this third section that I have the most trouble with and which, in my opinion, causes the efficacy of this performance to drop immensely.

The first two sections are completely impersonal. Mars and Wohead act as narrators, completing [in third-person] stories which we as spectators recognise as texts which pre-exist that of the performance. In other words, the two remain rather removed from the content, and the content is able to exist with no reference to them or aspects of their personae whatsoever. This changes in the third section. Whilst there is still an element of the fictional, with Wohead imagining what his death will be like in the future, or with Mars reimagining a breakup with an ex, the tone and scope of the material has changed dramatically. These are now completely self-contained [hi]stories, seemingly autobiographical and non-fictional, stories which we have no prior access to, stories which deal with human ordeals –– death, love, fear, hope, deceit and self-reflection -– stories which possess an altogether different tone to how a mouse might have helped fictional character Andy Dufresne escape from prison in The Shawshank Redemption. This shift is far too extreme.

Moreover, there is also a dramatic and incoherent shift in tech. To chart such shifts, however, I must start with the overture, as the lack of consistency where tech is concerned is not limited to the transition between the second and third sections but surfaces sporadically throughout the performance. The overture involves the two performers ascending and descending consecutively from the gaps in the floor, gradually and smoothly, stern-faced, as though a harrowing game of whack-a-mole. The space is dimly lit and filled with smoke, there are screens above either side of the U-shaped audience, droning and suspenseful sci-fi music and, later, when the performers are exploring the chasms and lifts of the gaps in the floor, stroboscopic lighting (all lighting designed by Nao Nagai). This is a very energised and busy use of tech. Yet, the action which follows uses tech minimally. For the first section, the performance space is flooded with natural lighting and there is no music, and for the second, the lighting is simply dimmed, a single [indeed, sometimes pulsating] spotlight is used, there is a mic and some –– albeit not the most congruous  –– music to add to the drama of the stories being told.

Whilst I understand that the whimsical and somewhat self-mocking humour present in the first and second sections is definitely present in this overture, from a technical and stylistic standpoint, there is still a massive disconnect here in the material we are presented. Yet, I must admit that the tech still remains cogent, powerful and sleek throughout…that is until the third section. This section sees the implementation of a green screen, something which I find utterly unnecessary and irrelevant to include in this performance. As I will mention again later, the gaping holes in the floor are slowly covered by large lime green boards, and the performance space is slowly transformed into a green screen studio in preparation for the third section. This green backing is then replaced by a simple image on the screens above our heads.

To my mind, this green screen has absolutely no place in this performance. The overall graphic looks cheap and low-quality with the keying being imprecise and unseemly but most especially with the superimposed animation of flames which slowly consume the screens –– and why the teapot and cups are also green, becoming oddly and pre-emptively invisible, and making the performers look as if they are partaking in a sort of sad children’s tea party mime, is beyond me. Besides looking aesthetically displeasing, the only real function it seems to have is demonstrating that Mars and Wohead are communicating with one another from different locations, but this is clear already within the dialogue; a green screen to communicate just this seems wildly excessive. It seems to me as though this is a new avenue or tool that the two performers are fixated on working with, that this is an unseasoned, fledging concept that should stay in the rehearsal space, if not upon the drawing board, and that Mars and Wohead have not considered this tool alongside the content of their performance carefully enough. What is the green screen actually bringing to the performance? Can the performance exist without it? If the answers to these are 'Nothing' and 'Yes', then it should be omitted.

The ending then seems to completely undo the work that has been done in the third section, depersonalising the content once more as Mars and Wohead attempt first to disappear through the hole in the back wall but fail before successfully disappearing through the floor –– a gag in reference to the first story we are told where Dufresne disappears through a postered hole in his prison cell. The writing hence seems to be all over the place in terms of both its focus and style. Whilst there remains moments of comedy, there is also a large shift in mode as well, as the performance becomes damper and more intendedly meaningful, as opposed to being funny for the sake of it as it seems to be in the previous sections.

I would urge Mars and Wohead not to be afraid of writing a script that uses these movie plot-holes and reimaginings as its sole material. This would make for a structured performance with a sense of consistency, rhythm and pattern yet not without dynamism and creativity, being that the stories will remain complex and different from one another. I think that, conceptually speaking, in its simplest form, the idea to transition from the study of plot-holes in movies to that of the plot-holes in one’s own life is not too great a jump and could be very fluid and coherent, yet the amount of detail given to these movies in the second section makes them far too integral to the performance’s text and makes it difficult to move away from them. When we do then move away from them completely and shift the focus to the performers themselves, we feel as though we have lost something, that we have compromised a sense of direction and recognisable structure.

I would like to finish with notes on design. Set is truly magnificent, both in its conceptualisation and in its physicality. The way in which it is utilised in this performance, as a cavernous labyrinth of sorts to be explored by the performers, is equally mesmerising. I really do enjoy the idea of the hole being covered as the stories are completed, but their need to be covered by the backing of a green screen is, again, unnecessary. Paired with heavy yet intelligent and articulate tech, we can really get a sense of adventure in this space. The only issue I really have with this set is not so much with the set itself but the way in which it is managed in two specific moments.

The first of these moments is at the very beginning, when the audience are first entering the space. Two ushers guard the large gaps in the floor that extend into the audience space, yet there is no pre-warning for the audience that these gaps exist in the first place. All it takes is one eager, unobservant or particularly transgressive audience member to rush past the ushers whilst they are distracted in guiding others to their seats as they frequently were, and quite a nasty accident could happen. More precautions when dealing with members of the public should be taken, particularly if the room is deliberately dimly lit [or when the floor is nonexistent!].

The second moment I have issues with is when the final green boards are being lain across the gaps in the floor. This board enters into one side of the audience space very obtrusively –– again, with no pre-warning –– obliging audience members to literally lift their feet off of the floor and pull them to their chest. This fails to consider audience members who might have a physical disability which ushers may fail to notice in order to direct them to sit elsewhere, and I would strongly advise against something so unnecessarily obtrusive. From a theatrical point of view, this also makes for an unwanted self-referentiality, as when the set piece bleeds into the audience space, so do the performers who have to lift it, and this means interacting with audience members, something which an otherwise self-contained piece of theatre as this should not do. As pedantic as these issues seem, they are rather fundamental and should be addressed very early on in the performance’s conceptualisation.

Inconsistencies and mishaps aside, I would like to end on a positive note. Mars and Wohead are strong performers, convincing and high-energy. They command their material well, are well trained in comedic timing and can clearly generate some very powerful, dynamic and hilarious narratives. Their storytelling ability is impeccable in this sense, and what else is theatre for if not to tell stories?

“A very astute and entertaining piece of theatre but one which loses its way quite wildly halfway through.”


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