Bubble, part of the Nottingham Playhouse Unlocked season, reflects back at us the chaotic last 6 months, and allows us to view it with a new, and shifting, perspective.
James Graham’s fresh and funny script is immediately accessible because of the very naturalistic and believable language used, and references to ice-skating on a first date, and Torvill and Dean, locate it firmly in Nottingham. The place, and even characters, could be easily changed for another, but making it so local gives it an intimacy and immediacy that feels like a big hug for the local community. Bubble is directed by Adam Penford.
The story is a sort of ‘sliding doors’ scenario, where Ash and Morgan have to decide, after one, perfect date night, if they should lockdown together or remain separate in their own flats. Pearl Mackie is the confident and independent Ash, freewheeling and spontaneous. Mackie is really grounded and admirable in the role, revealing an actor with depth who I’d love to see in other roles too. Jessica Raine as the more highly-strung and vulnerable Morgan, reveals her character’s fragility through a child-like restlessness of body and brittleness of expression, and whose physicality makes us feel uncomfortable for her.
The play opens with a charming, breathless, ‘will they, won’t they’, excitement. Have they met ‘the one’? If they don’t act instinctively now, will the moment be lost? It is heady, and ridiculous, but we all kind of want to believe in it. As the story unfurls, it moves through the initial novelty of lockdown, with people taking to gardening, baking, even home-hairdressing. It quickly moves into clapping for the NHS, arguments over who is a key-worker and home-schooling on line. But the death of George Floyd is a turning point, a huge fracture in society reflected in the relationship, with the differences in the couple’s heritage and political viewpoints revealing pervasive racism.
The play is performed as ‘scratch’ – meaning with no set and few props – and is socially distanced at all times. There is nothing missing because of this – rather it highlights the superb quality of the script and the ability of the actors to keep us focussed and to imagine that which is missing.
The performance was watched by a small socially distance audience in the Playhouse but I was watching on-line from home. There are many benefits to on-line viewing which must surely be retained for the future; it opens it up to a wider audience, who either because of cost or accessibility, are unable to attend in person. It makes captioning and audio description more available. But you do lose that enveloping sense of immersion you get in a theatre, with the common experience of being a part of an audience all reacting at the same time. And for that reason, I felt less emotionally engaged than I might otherwise have done.
Seeing the Playhouse open its doors once more with this new festival is a breath of fresh air for the City, and only serves to highlight its relevance at the heart of our community, in reflecting it and inspiring us all.