In my restless quest to bring you all that’s bright and best in internet drama for #30plays30days I spent yesterday evening online. No change there you might be thinking after nearly a month doing the same thing every day. But this time I was online watching a play about being online being performed through the lens of social media. Unlike most of the other productions I have seen, however, Kieran Hurley’s exciting new play Bubble was designed to be performed exactly in this way. Though it was planned and executed long before the lockdown took place its release in the first week of the crisis could not have been timelier.
The premise of the play is straightforward enough. In an unguarded moment a lecturer refers to some female students using a derogatory term – probably, in his mind anyway, jokingly. Whatever the case, offence is taken, dudgeon gets extremely high and various people take to social media to voice their views. This quickly gets out of hand with people who were not even present chipping in and sides becoming polarised. Very soon participants are blocking each other, calling each other out, becoming outraged on other people’s behalves and generally raising Cain. Accusations of snowflakery and feminazism are thrown about; questions surrounding free speech, safe spaces and non – platforming are raised; even the lecturers get involved. Inevitably a student protest breaks out, the police are called in and outcomes satisfy nobody. Worryingly the last voice heard is that of an alt-right character railing against anybody and everybody and basically on no-one’s side but his own.
The piece is only 45 minutes long and packs a great deal in, so much so that the viewer (well this one anyway) really has to concentrate. Even as the arguments are stated it is easy to see why allegiances change and former allies become bitter foes. Interestingly one of the students in the centre at the start of it all isn’t remotely interested and just wants the whole business to go away and she and the offending lecturer have to watch from the wings as everyone else takes up the cudgels on their behalf.
But it is in the way that the story is told that this interesting drama becomes truly innovative not to say meta theatrical. Direct addresses to camera are the mainstay of the piece which give it a gritty quality and means there can be rapid cross cutting. The framing also allows more than one character to be present at the same time, though, significantly, they are all encased in their own little on-screen box/bubble. There is also much use made of text speech and emojis which, again, help the piece to speed through and give the unfolding story extra levels of meaning and tension.
This version is performed by Theatre Uncut …uncut maybe but obviously highly edited. It has to be said that the characterisation does fall into stereotyping but with a large cast and so little playing time that is somewhat inevitable. It appears that the video was shot in different locations across Europe and the UK and the participants never actually met each other to rehearse; in which case they do a fine job. It is an ensemble piece and it is perhaps invidious to pick people out but I found that Rose Sharkey as an opportunistic journalist in the making and Ed Larking as the loner with a chip on his shoulder made a particular impression. I also enjoyed the more low-key performance of Graeme Stirling as the hapless lecturer who is concerned that the incident may affect the promotion of his book on Civil Rights (ironic) and has problems engaging with social media technology. A nice little touch was having his glasses held together by a rubber band.
This is probably a play that would repay rewatching, as at any one time there are multiple things taking place on screen; I’m sure I missed some stuff simply because the processor in my brain couldn’t keep up. The direction of the piece by Emma Callendar and Hannah Price is assured with the technology making for rapid pacing which reflects the speed with which this particular rolling stone of circumstances gathers plenty of moss. I’m glad I took a leap of faith with this one and I enjoyed the way it was put together; who knows, this may be the future of theatre going from now on.
Bubble from Theatre Uncut is available on You Tube. Click here. The royalty free script is downloadable in case you wish to develop and record your own version
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