Many of us, particularly if you grew up during the late nineties, will remember Louis Sachar's book Holes as either the novel read in your English class or the Disney movie starring Sigourney Weaver, John Voight and Shia LaBeouf. Now Stanley Yelnats and the orange boiler-suited inmates of Camp Green Lake have grabbed their shovels and made their way to the stage in this new UK touring production directed by Nottingham Playhouse artistic director Adam Penford.
It has to be said that this stage adaptation doesn't deviate from the story or film at all, it is a completely faithful re-telling of what has become a modern classic. But frankly this is a story that discovers a lot of themes, twists and turns that Sachar originally explored in his writing that it doesn't particularly need anything new bringing to it., Even if you're not familiar with it, you will easily become invested into the plot and the colourful characters. It is also humorous, at times ruthless and filled with heart. Penford's production matches this with a great deal of fun and creativity with a fast flowing narrative voice from the principal characters without skipping a beat nor slowing down.
As an alternative to a prison sentence for a crime he didn't commit, the bad luck-ridden Stanley Yelnats is sent to Camp Green Lake in the scorching Texas desert where he is made to dig one hole every day, five foot deep, five foot wide. James Backway's innocence that he brings to the character provides a large amount of likability whilst adding comedy and naivety as the new boy on the scene. There he is faced with the other inmates; X-Ray, Armpit, Magnet and Zero by which Harold Addo, Hentry Mettle, Joëlle Brabban and Leona Allen each embrace their characters with unique personalities and humour going from initially alienating Stanley to accepting him as one of their own a.k.a the Caveman. In particular, Allen as Zero is most transformative of the characters but all together it conveys the warm-hearted theme of friendship through the most unlikely of places, adding sentimentality to the story. Particularly as they are faced with the corrupted staff, The Warden, fiercely and furiously played by Grace Davey, Mr Sir the cantankerous counselor played by John Elkington and the bullying Mr Pendanski played by Matthew Romain. They are part of the talented enemble that each plays more than one character from the present or throughout the past during the stories of Stanley's "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather" or the infamous outlaw Kissin' Kate Barlow.
On a technical level, the set design by Simon Kenny is simple, however it shows a real sense of the western American desert with effective and atmospheric lighting by Prema Mehta. The puppetry by Matthew Forbes for the yellow spotted lizards, tarantulas and rattlesnakes are also greatly effective giving a notion of danger throughout the story.
While this may not be the most spectacular of productions, it utilises the more traditional ways of story-telling in theatre, aided by cast of that give a heck of a lot of energy. It is a story that covers a lot of notions of friendship, racism, dedication and the chance to better ourselves with plenty to dig into. But in the end it is a delightful adaptation that is guaranteed to be enjoyed by both children and adults.
Holes runs at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry until Saturday 22 February
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