Venue: The Flying Horse Inn
Where: Rochdale

A late afternoon performance in an out of town venue gets a small but highly appreciative audience for Cathy Crabb’s The Bubbler. Scheduling aside there is little wrong with this powerful but very entertaining production.

After a hard day managing the local Cash Generator Peter (Neil Bell) needs a drink. At his local pub he bitterly reminisces about his life and treats long suffering barman Paul (Dan Street-Brown) to his opinions on the issues of the day. The subjects are wide and his opinions extreme covering scroats, volunteer workers, children (one solution to the problems endured by children in need might be to cull them like deceased cattle), the emotional intelligence of animals, Chetham’s library and the behaviour of people in art galleries.

There are all sorts of potential problems with a play of this nature. It could simply be unappealing – like enduring the editorial of the Daily Mail read at high volume for an hour. Crabb avoids this with a script that is full of controversy but also very entertaining and crammed with memorable lines. Heaton Park is Manchester’s Garden of Eden – why else would the Pope visit? Of course Peter can’t resist another comparison point – it’s also full of Jews.

A show involving just two actors could be dull but director Phil Dennison opens up the production in surprising ways. During a pause in his speeches Bell offers an aggressive but splendid air guitar version of Dire Straits back catalogue. Street-Brown’s efforts to convey the beauty of a portrait in the art gallery are enhanced by subtle pastoral backing music. And you couldn’t ask for a better venue for a play set in a bar than a pub that sells decent real ale.

The key to the success of the show is that no one involved tries to make Peter sympathetic. Bell delivers a magnetic and very physical performance. You really can’t take your eyes off him as he strides around the stage in a state of agitation. The impression he gives is that of a manipulative man who has driven himself to a point of no return. Throughout the show one fears that Peter’s vocal violence is going to turn physical. This gives the apparently innocent ending to the play a disturbing edge of menace as you wonder what Peter will do next. Dan Street-Brown is more than just the straight man; he has a comedian’s timing and is able to pace his occasional digs at Peter perfectly to show Paul’s growing disapproval.

This is a fine production of a strong play that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

- Dave Cunningham