Stanley Yelnats. Spelt the same backwards as forwards, and that’s not the only unusual thing about Stanley. He was born into a family cursed with bad luck. That bad luck manifests itself when he’s accused of stealing a pair of trainers. Before long, Stanley finds himself in a labour camp, digging a hole a day in the blazing sun. The question is, why is he digging? Stanley doesn’t believe it’s just because it’s character building.
Holes: The story
When I first read about the concept of Holes, I wondered how digging holes could be made interesting and exciting for the stage. During the first half, the audience are introduced to the characters. Stanley Yelnats and his fellow prisoners are overseen by a terrifying warden. Whilst remaining out of sight, the warden watches everything that goes on. When Stanley discovers something in the ground during a dig, it suddenly becomes clear that all is not what it seems at the labour camp.
Once the characters have been introduced, the first half does seem a bit slow moving. Predictably, there are a lot of scenes revolving around digging. Stanley encounters Zero, a fellow inmate who doesn’t say much. Prisoners and supervisors alike assume he is stupid but Zero asks Stanley to teach him to read. From then on, the two of them have a bit of a bond, with Zero sticking up for Stanley.
From the beginning of the second half, the pace of the production picks up dramatically. When the actors come back on stage, they are playing different characters. A dance is taking place, clearly set in a bygone era. We are introduced to a school teacher, a few unpleasant characters and a delightful onion salesman and his donkey. A love story unfolds between the onion salesman and the teacher, but it is far from a happy ending. From then on, the story flits between the labour camp and the bygone era. It becomes upbeat and engaging. We couldn’t help but cross our fingers for Stanley and Zero to have the happy ending their ancestors were denied.
Holes: The stage production
The stage performance of Holes is based on the novel of the same name by Louis Sachar. The book won awards for children’s and young people’s literature and was so popular, it was made into a film. The stage production by the Children’s Theatre Partnership and Royal and Derngate is directed by Adam Penford. The young cast bring the story to life with boundless energy and enthusiasm.
The production is recommended for children aged 8 and over. My two are a little younger than that and they enjoyed the production although it was difficult to follow in places. Holes addresses some big issues around racism and bullying in an engaging and thought provoking way. Each actor plays more than one character and puppetry is used to represent rattle snakes and lizards. The simplicity of the set allows the production to focus on the story rather than elaborate costumes or sets. When we left the theatre, chatting about the production led to a useful discussion about racism. It is something we have discussed before, but it’s a very difficult concept for children to grasp. Seeing a production that addressed the issue definitely gave them a greater level of understanding.
If you would like to see Holes, it is on at Malvern Theatres until this Saturday, 7th March. Tickets are available from the Malvern Theatres website or from their box office. The tour continues until the end of May, with more information and tickets available here.