Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Mole in the Hole

Written and directed by Tim Webb
Oily Cart
Unicorn Theatre and touring
(2010)

Mole in the Hole publicity graphic

Mole in the Hole is an intimate and involving entertainment for three- to six-year-olds that takes them into the underground world of the Mole family. It probably helps to know what a mole is but if you don't already there are some family portraits you can see and I'm sure some of those kitting you out with glittery miner's helmets if you want to be a mole or grey and spotted floppy-eared hats if you prefer to be a rabbit will be delighted to explain. Leave your coats and scarves on the trees and when Mr Mole and a Silly Rabbit have welcomed you, follow the sliver trail behind Mr Snail to where 'it's really nice and smelly underground' as one of their songs says.

Jens Demant Cole has designed a little world to explore and a circular Mole home that unifies the audience, but at first you can't get in it. Mr Mole is not very bright: he needs the children to tell him how to get inside because he has forgotten his key. There are lots of other things that even a three-year-old can help with as everyone goes on a visit to this underground home, lit by glow-worms, such as finding Mr and Mrs Mole's missing baby. When the glow-worms don't feel well and lose their glimmer there is a quest to get them help: waking a hedgehog from hibernation, finding the way to a waterfall (now how are we going to get under that without getting wet?), until at last they track down the Big Glow-worm, find the right food for her which magically pops up from seeds the children scatter until all is set right and it is time to go back above ground and home.

It is a simple story line with just the right amount of repetition that youngsters this age love, and everyone gets the chance to follow Mrs Mole's advice and 'sniff and dig' to find things or to tunnel their way around.

With Griff Fender, Arun Ghosh, Jumoke Oke, Caroline Partridge and Charlotte Windley playing all the parts (and operating the intriguing puppets) and music from Max Reinhardt there is always something happening and no hanging around. Whether coming up with a solution to one of Mole's problems, answering one of the family's questions about what it is like where you live or just holding a torch or taking care of an umbrella there is something for everyone to do if they want to but there is no pressure, but just following that snail trail gets every child involved..

With its jolly music and relaxed atmosphere Mole in the Hole almost seems improvised but it is a very carefully crafted show. Oily Cart know their audience and what works, making sure that at the same time they both please and stretch them. Though their audience would never notice, writer/director Webb and his team are studying reactions at every performance to see how they can make it even better.

At the Unicorn Theatre until 2nd January 2011, then Clwyd Theatre Cymru, Mold (11th -22nd January); Macrobert, Stirling (25th - 29th January); Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry (1st - 5th February); Minerva, Chichester Festival Theatre (8th - 12th February 2011).

Reviewer: Howard Loxton