Pros: There is some really well executed physical theatre and puppetry, and beautiful masks decorate the performance. When the story is understandable, it is lovely to watch.
Cons: The story is on the whole incredibly difficult to follow and the whole production feels completely over-stretched. Diction is also very poor.
Sometimes, the first impression you have of a show as you walk into the theatre is the one that stays with you afterwards. As you enter the Blue Elephant Theatre, a cosy little black box space in Camberwell, I’m afraid to say that the overwhelming sensation is apprehension. Alongside the four actors onstage is a wardrobe of props, masks and instruments so extensive that you would be forgiven for thinking you had just walked into Michael Jackson’s wardrobe. There is so much in front of you that you can’t help think “How on earth are they going to use all of that stuff?”
What follows onstage is a frantic and rather over-stretched hour of physical theatre that, while it contains moments of impressive ensemble performance, never fails to shake a sense of slight foreboding that it’s all going to collapse around us. In the Surface of a Bubble is an ambitious re-imagining of the creation of a universe. A boy Nathan (Adam Cridland) with no imagination and a girl Michelle (Line Møller-Christensen) with lots of imagination, both living in pre-everything times, come up with a way to live that is based on the physical rather than the imagination. This new way of life becomes popular and Nathan wants to liberate more people to this form of living, but he gets greedy and bad things start to happen. Michelle gets upset at what Nathan is doing and and leaves, infusing water with the power of dreams and imagination to create a world where people no longer rely firmly on logic.
It is a lovely story and Edward Day’s charming imagination is clear through the whole piece. The many masks are elegant and the incorporation of music and movement is smooth and well executed. However, there is a determined focus on style over substance that often confuses the audience and prevents them from following what is happening in stage. Every line is either sung or delivered in an unusual voice so that half the time you just can’t hear what’s going on. I am certain that there is a simple charm at the heart of what this play is trying to say, but it just gets lost in the noise.
The show introduces an entire mythology that incorporates so many different styles of unusual performance and varied characters that it is just impossible to take it all in. The puppetry is impressive but the cast of four must master so many different puppets and constantly jump between different characters that it is really difficult for the audience to develop an affinity with any one of them. Before there is an opportunity to see the puppet rather than the puppet master, the scene has changed and the audience is deprived of any real emotional connection with what is happening on stage.
There is such an abundance of imagination and liveliness in what Edward Day and his company are trying to achieve here but this show needs to be scaled down to give the audience a chance to penetrate its warm centre.
Writer/Director/Composer: Edward Day.
Producer: Surface of a Bubble.
Box Office: 020 7701 0100
Booking Link: www.blueelephanttheatre.co.uk
Booking Until: 12 July.