There will never be enough words to fully do justice to be able to convey the complexities of the female experience, but armed with a loop peddle and just herself on stage Holly Spillars’ show Hole is able to bring a compelling and deeply funny show to the audience as we learn and accept that we can be whole instead of just hole.
Hole is an autobiographical experience of Spillars’ own journey through her diagnosis of vaginismus, a condition in which the vaginal muscles tighten up on their own, unable to fit anything such as a tampon inside without causing extreme pain. It looks at her experiences within the character hole finding a community, medical gaslighting, and reclaiming her own sexuality. It’s all of this and so much more. A love letter for herself but for all women too.
Holly is an incredible character actor, with vocals reminiscent of the style of Bjork. From the moment of stepping on stage, she keeps you guessing. A bizarre mash of characters are punctuated through voice distortion or songs using the loop peddle as we learn about the responses to her vaginismus by boyfriends, doctors, etc. She’s able to play with us as an audience. The words often don’t match the tones of her songs as we hear people’s ignorance spill into lyrics accompanied by jaunty melodies. Songs made about genuine doctors’ advice which include “Have you tried relaxing” or “Have you tried drinking wine before sex”. There’s a disconnect for the audience, we’re laughing because she makes it funny but I’m crying because I know it’s true.
Emerging onto the stage in a tight black dress Holly demands to be seen. A juxtaposition of the hypersexualisation placed onto her by society and her own emergence in re-owning her body and condition. And therein lies the crux of this show. Sexuality vs identity, how important is it? She guides us through comic stories of self-sacrificing her own pleasure in an attempt to satisfy others or create normalcy. Puts a spotlight on the blunders of the NHS and their treatments of dealing with such a condition. The loop peddle creates songs that spin around in circles demonstrating the dismissal and attempt for self advocation. By the end, we are exploded into new sounds and rhythms in a smattering of self-love and autonomy.
Sound is crucial within this as we are introduced to a whiplash sensorial experience. In creating a character as strong as Hole, everything is chosen with precise specificity. The language the character uses, the voice. There’s a peculiarity within this character. She speaks in dulcet tones, with at times, a more basic language – whether or not that’s a commentary on the infantilisation of women or the manic pixie dream girl conceit, I think is for the audience to decide and work out, but it feels too intentional to not mean something. Equally paired with sounds and noises coming out of the loop peddle we’re thrown into a cognitive dissonance, which should be displeasing but makes it all too intriguing to ignore.
Of course, we cannot talk about sound without mentioning the music. Holly is able to command through songs both for herself and us by our inclusion, in what I can only describe as a dildo round of karaoke. At times I felt hesitancy from Holly and think she could have afforded to use us more than she did. For example getting us to clap along, cheer or sing at other points. I did, however, enjoy how our inclusion into the story felt like a contributor to the de-stigmatisation of these issues in womanhood but I wanted more and just wish she could have pushed it further.
Likewise, with the use of the loop peddle it felt like there was a finite amount of ways to build a song, for some of them this pairs amazingly but for others I would have liked more variety. Especially when in the final song she busts out new skills that we hadn’t seen before, showing that there is more that can be added.
It’s clear that the importance of Holly’s message is not lost as even once we left I heard members of the audience discuss the significance of the topics covered and their prevalence among us. For some, this will be the first time anyone has heard of this condition and the piece’s significance lies not only in Holly’s education in a fun and accessible way but the model she is able to present for her advocation.
Raw, powerful, and just a bit bizarre. Holly Spillar is a powerhouse of a performer that leaves every audience member in awe. A crucial story of female empowerment over one’s sexuality and Holly does so with great care and killer vocals. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Recommended drink: Anything but wine!
Catch Hole at Underbelly – Bristo Square, Buttercup between 15th-28th August at 14:15. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.