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Bubble by James Graham was live-streamed last autumn, using socially distanced staging and a reduced audience, and the recording is now available to stream on-demand as part of Nottingham Playhouse’s Spring Loaded season. The piece, starring Pearl Mackie as Ash and Jessica Raine as Morgan, begins in March last year as the impending lockdown pushes a new couple to decide whether to bubble up or not after ‘one amazing date’. Both women are eccentric and have something to prove through the success of this lockdown relationship, with confident and impulsive Ash trying to prove she can settle, whilst awkward overthinker Morgan wants to be more reckless in life.
The piece is delivered using a split narrative, in which the scenes – each clearly prefaced by a projection of the word ‘BUBBLE’ or ‘APART’ – alternate between the timeline where the couple did and didn’t choose to cohabit, respectively. The screen is also split in half for most of the production, displaying two camera feeds simultaneously, with one fixed on Mackie and the other following Raine. This technique is effective, and the piece is filmed well, however the sound quality leaves something to be desired with the microphones regularly peaking.
It is clear from the outset that, regardless of the outcome, the journey each timeline takes us on is going to be entertaining. The ‘BUBBLE’ timeline sets this up well when Ash realises that, despite having agreed to live with Morgan, she doesn’t even know her partner’s surname yet. The forced-closeness / isolating-distance only fuels tensions as the couple grow closer, struggling to fully respect each other’s lifestyles., and Mackie and Raine play off each other brilliantly in bonding and bickering alike.
Graham’s writing is fantastic and will surely be heralded as one of the first great pieces of ‘covid theatre’, rooted in the events of the pandemic. He explores many of the same topics in both timelines, yet the shift in context and distance triggers dramatically different responses. This intelligent exploration of human nature, and the conditional nature of building relationships, is what keeps the piece so engaging.
The script is littered with funny quips, and tongue-in-cheek references to how lockdown culture ‘won’t catch on’, and the compulsory round of national clapping for the NHS. What is surprising, however, is how a piece about adjusting to lockdown, which was topical and current when first performed just six months ago, is already on its way to becoming historical fiction. References such as mocking a ‘Karen’ who was ‘actually wearing a mask’ at the shops feel almost obscure as we near a year of it becoming law.
Whilst the piece mostly keeps things light (miraculously), focusing more on the absurdity than the sorrow of the pandemic, no scene hits harder than the conversation around the Black Lives Matter protests of last year. This is one of the biggest points of conflict between the couple, as it is so emotionally charged, and Mackie must be commended for her moving performance. Her delivery is raw, passionate, and earnest as she declares ‘I want to be in a crowd. I want to be surrounded by people who look like me’.
If you want escapism from the current global events, then this production may not be for you, but it will certainly appease those who are willing to chuckle at the ridiculous lifestyle that last summer thrust upon us. Bubble is an engaging and enjoyable show which will make you laugh, smile, maybe cringe at some of those 2020 references, and almost definitely feel relief that we are starting to regain some sense of normality.
Bubble is playing online until 24 June 2021. For more information and tickets, see Nottingham Playhouse online.