SUNDAY, MARCH 10, 2024

BCF 24: Hollow
Photo courtesy of Replay Theatre Company

The brilliance of Replay Theatre Company's Hollow, composed and directed by Andrew Stanford and starring Christopher Grant, Holly Hannaway and Debra Hill as three "cogs" in a perpetual machine, is in how it transitions from the technical to the humane for the eyes of the young neurodivergent or autistic individual who experiences it. Assisted by hugely detailed set design from Darren Robinson and appropriately gritty costuming from Susan Scott, Grant, Hannaway and Hill play their part in helping the participant discover and pass through a sensitively pleasing doorway to both creativity and belonging.

The "hollow" area is like a small but rather wondrous world of constructive gadgets and gizmos which looks as if it has been tunnelled out underground, a room where all three "cogs" find that they need to depend on each other to keep things ticking over. In doing so, they unearth something else entirely – a level of emotional engagement which appears genuinely unexpected both for them and the participant.

Early signs of the transcendent territory to which Stanford guides Hollow can be seen during the moment when one of the cogs looks like she is waving goodbye to a "paint pot" as it is carried away from her by a pulley – there's a sadness to it all, as if she fully recognises the value of colour in our lives and the lack of conviviality in its absence. But she and everyone are soon to be both consoled and uplifted by the sight of the other two cogs using colours in the creation of rocks which our participant will play with. These are rocks as a symbol of security and positivity, the wisdom and experience provided in support of the young along with creative inspiration - and it's a joy to observe.

What's also special about Hollow is the comforting nature of the whole enterprise – it is as if Grant, Hannaway and Hill are not only assisting with exploration but also telling the participant that they will protect them, teach them and help them to feel better. There's another moment where we see a "fire" burning behind the equivalent of a closed furnace in the corner, and it's hard not to recall a time where one couldn't help but be fascinated, or perhaps entranced, by such colour and movement. It's representative of both the past and the present, of memories gone by and of the imaginative spark that can burn brightly in hearts with the right guidance and encouragement. And burn brightly it does, thanks to the level of variety on show crafted with the instruments at hand. With Hollow we are repeatedly invited, and always compelled, to take joy in the numerous facets of discovery presented in a show filled with innovation and surprises, a fantastic voyage within an inner space where imagination for all can emerge.

Simon Fallaha

Hollow ran at The MAC, Belfast as part of the Young at Art Belfast Children's Festival 2024 (#BCF24) from Friday March 8 to Sunday March 10, and will tour schools in April. For more information, click here.