Cathy Crabb’s The Bubbler, her successful play responding to the events of the 2011 riots, had a special performance last week as a fundraiser following a break in at the Black Lion in Salford. Money was split between the venue and to replace the money stolen from the Help for Heroes collection pots. I’m only sorry that I’ve finally got to see The Bubbler under such circumstances. On the plus side, it was great to see so many people, both familiar and unfamiliar turning out to support The Black Lion and Futureartists.
The Bubbler follows the fortunes of two men. Peter, manager of the local Cash Generator and Paul, barman at the local boozer. The chalk and cheese pairing of Peter and Paul reflect Crabb’s irritation at the demonising of the young in the press following the riots. Foul-mouthed Peter screams against the “scrotes” of society, and is played to perfection by Neil Bell (Porridge) in a role written especially for him. Bell’s waspish performance drips cynicism on those he serves as the manager of a Cash Generator. Peter dispenses acidic and cruel jibes against those who are in need of his services without really stopping to think what he is saying. Bell’s self-deprecating style is compelling to watch but horrific to hear as his rhetoric slams home.
Daniel Street Brown plays young Paul, the barman with a more balanced air of grace about him. Trying to get Peter to reconsider his view, or at least examine different trains of thought means that Paul has his work cut out for him. In comparison to Bell, Brown’s portrayal is more restrained, more subtly nuanced, and much more amiable. Whilst this does not make their double act any less watchable, Brown’s character is going to pale in front of Bell’s mouthy juggernaut.
Crabb also cleverly constructs a whole character around an object. Tony, a regular at the pub has accidentally left his umbrella behind at the bar. Peter hates everything about Tony – Tony has everything Peter doesn’t: patience, toleration, a relationship, a nice flat. The umbrella symbolises much more as it becomes a window into wider issues around the sustainability of the young and the creative in modern society.
Despite The Bubbler‘s slight length it is a complex piece that has lost none of its relevance in the year that has passed since the riots. The inclusion of slides depicting images and captions in silent movie style is a good flourish by Director Phil Dennison and solidifies The Bubbler’s place as a modern-day morality play.
Indeed, by reflecting Peter’s satanic downfall in the style of Milton’s Paradise Lost there is the tension of heaven and hell pushing and pulling against each other. Perhaps this is to warn us of the dangers of demonising the young, or perhaps instead shows us that not all young people are the same.
A remarkable piece, that although at its core is just two disparate men talking with each other, is filled with such feeling and intensity that it elevates it to something much more. Whilst the ideas in it are not going to change the world, they are well put across and done with a bit of humour to mix things up. A clever concluding twist that I won’t spoil here for you makes The Bubbler a extremely entertaining piece of theatre.
The Fiction Stroker gives The Bubbler five strokes out of five:
The Bubbler will be on tour at The Flying Horse Hotel in Rochdale from 31 August – 1 September. More details are available on the play’s website.