Minerva Studio, Chichester
Opened 18 June, 2003

Rearrange the following words into a well-known phrase or saying: North grim up it's. The opening ten minutes of Robert Holman's Holes In The Skin not only establish fifteen-year-old Kerry's fractious, fragmented family life but see her being groped by her feckless mother's latest decidedly un-fancy man. Kerry then meets the earnest, otherworldly Lee, who became hooked on heroin in a young offenders' institution, and his thuggish dealer brother Ewan, whose idea of brotherly love is to keep Lee under his thumb in opiate happy-land and whose idea of seducing Kerry is to massage his own left nipple vigorously. When Ewan beats up fancy-man to please Kerry and the victim dies, even the girl's tough emotional carapace is hard pressed to cope.

However, Holman has only one foot in the kitchen sink; the other is in oblique, at times semi-absurd psychodrama. Enter the outsiders. Freya is a tough-loving, insightful teacher, Dominic her holy fool of a 21-year-old son and Lee's best friend; Joachim, a blind sculptor with an all-purpose European accent, is both Freya's father and Dominic's. They are quite free of guilt about either the incestuous relationship itself or Dominic's resultant poor fortune in the genetic lottery. Kerry and Lee join their extended family; Kerry's mother and Ewan object, with menaces.

In tone, style and personnel, Simon Usher's production in Chichester's Minerva studio space feels more like a Bush Theatre show manqué... although designer Anthony Lamble would not be able to get away in that pub theatre, as he almost does here, with a series of prolonged scene changes, bringing on and off stage a tree or a children's playground for single scenes. Holman has written a Baskin-Robbins range of low self-esteem: 31 flavours of its manifestations, of ways of tackling it and of clinging to it. There's much talking from the heart, but paradoxically little is spelt out, and plenty of obscure loose ends dangle. When dead Dennis returns, silent, in the very next scene, is he a ghost? A flashback? A sidelight? Probably the first, but search me for what it means. Nor do matters come together towards the close, any more than in a school essay ending, "In conclusion, so-and-so can be seen in various ways..." And three and a half hours is a long time to spend getting to that non-point.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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