Bubble

James Graham
Nottingham Playhouse
Nottingham Playhouse

Pearl Mackie as Ashley and Jessica Raine as Morgan Credit: Pamela Raith
Pearl Mackie as Ashley and Jessica Raine as Morgan Credit: Pamela Raith
Pearl Mackie as Ashley and Jessica Raine as Morgan Credit: Pamela Raith

Bubble is not only the first but also the ultimate lockdown parable with a few novel twists. It is slickly directed as part of the Unlocked Festival on the stage for live audience by Nottingham Playhouse’s Artistic Director, Adam Penford, and also made available to a much wider fan base via Zoom.

Depending on your point of view, micro-pub owner Ash and schoolteacher Morgan, respectively played by Pearl Mackie and Jessica Raine, are either the luckiest or unluckiest young women in the world. They meet and have an incredibly hot night out after meeting on a dating app, just about resist going to bed together, and then the world falls apart.

By the next morning, rather than merely enjoying a second date, they are faced with a big decision. On the one hand, they could opt for separation for an indeterminate period, while the world locks down. Alternatively, they could co-habit.

This 70 minute comedy-drama would not be much of a play if they had opted for the former option so, in reality, the choice is between Ash’s bijou basement with garden and Now TV or Morgan’s studio loft with views over Nottingham and TV subscriptions galore.

With barely time to draw breath, Ash is acclimatising to her new home, while each has to confront the difficulties of living together with somebody you had not met 48 hours previously.

Rather than sticking with this highly serviceable strategy, the play then hedges its bets by alternating scenes in the bubble with those imagining what would have happened to the two women had they remained apart and followed what turns out to be an almost directly opposite arc.

James Graham cleverly manages two different narratives in each scenario. The first allows us to follow a pair of young women who have remarkably little in common other than a surface attraction to each other.

At the same time, their experiences mirror those of so many 20-somethings who discovered that their world was narrowed to something close to non-existence, working from a claustrophobically cramped home with little but Zoom and Netflix to keep them company.

Many of the popular tropes of the period illuminate their time together (or apart), whether it is texting, Zooming, slagging off politicians or debating whether to risk your life in a Black Lives Matter March to protest the death of George Floyd.

The acting is pitch-perfect throughout, the performers expertly blending the feelings of love and awkwardness as their characters are thrown together with the inevitable fear and uncertainty of the times in which they live.

Bubble rings true today because everything in it seems so familiar, reminding us of the COVID experience that we have all shared over the last few months and quite possibly for many more.

Not only will what must be the first full-length play written as an examination of this difficult year please audiences during this run. It is also likely to enjoy a long and fulfilling future, as these events slowly dissolve into the past, at which point it will become an important historical document about a terrible year.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher