Warren has just reminded me of a long-running story that’s just about to reach a head.
I guess the first time I saw the London Bubble must have been in the late 80s. Jonathan Petherbridge had just taken over and the whole company saw a gear change – the most obvious of which was the importation of his trademark promenade style for their annual summer production. There haven’t been many I’ve missed since then. Some have hit the mark more squarely than others – The Arabian Nights, Shakespeare and Carroll have adapted to the format much better than, say Lords & Ladies, which left me, as a non-Pratchett-reader (though actually desperately sad for him just now) totally baffled, but in general the work was solid, thoughtful and, above all, entertaining.
As the years wore on and, dare I say it, Petherbridge seemed to be wearying of the much-loved format, he started to branch out with the subject matter. Out went Shakespeare and in came strange adaptations of obscure folk tales and interesting angles on classic works. Again, these were often a mixed bag, but Peth’s bold style meant that they were never boring, always questioning – and to get that quality into a family show is an admirable thing.
I went whenever I could – for that very unpredicatbility – and for the quality of the acting, from the likes of Andy Serkis and the fabulous Linda Dobell. A great disappointment for me remains that I never saw The Dong With The Luminous Nose, which, after I read the Time Out review about “huffy spectators tutting, shouting and storming off” during the pre-show, I was desperate to see and still managed to miss.
I even enjoyed the panto they used to do at Greenwich Theatre every year, though I understand that Petherbridge detests the genre and did everything he could to subvert it. I adored Simon Thompson who used to play the dame, whose finest moment was his death scene as Cinderella’s mother “I bequeath to you the script for the slop-scene…” (and the meerkats another year were inspired; acquaintances of mine still sing the song to this day) but if I’m honest the parting of ways a couple of years ago was probably for the best. Greenwich Theatre now has a team that love the traditional form, and Bubble, until very recently, have been happier over in Deptford, producing their own seasonal fare rather than trying to showhorn themselves into a format they didn’t enjoy.
I am really sorry about the Arts Council’s decision to pull funding for this company. I remember seeing a sniffy woman from the organisation on TV saying something along the lines of their not being innovative enough. I wonder whether that means that people actually enjoyed their stuff?
The Bubble are fighting back and we’ll hear news soon. And I should add that Nick Raysford is, for once, actually doing something, lobbying the Arts Council. But if things continue as they are, their entire funding will be cut on 1 April.
Read about it here, and if you’ve ever enjoyed a Bubble show, drop them (or even better, The Arts Council) a line now to tell them so.
In the meanwhile, as the Olympic juggernaut gathers speed, we can expect to see a few more swingeing cuts and a few more victims in our artistic and cultural landscape.