What follows is a missed opportunity where stronger poeticism and social commentary could have left Bubblelands firmly ingrained in my memory. The hope that every time I stare at the ocean or sit contemplating the happiness of aquarium inhabitants I think back to this work.
The premise is reminiscent of Beckett in regards to it's potential for satire and absurdity, but never quite hits the promised spot. The outrageous physical and vocal dedication from our clearly experienced performers Hweiling Ow (Blue Cod) and Benjamin Teh (Crayfish) make up for the lost potential the characters have in the direction and script. With an all too forced colloquialism given to Tehs’ Crayfish and a confused power struggle between the two throughout, it’s admirable to see the actors make their roles work with each other with a chemistry that can only come from great experience.
There are moments where it feels like Bubblelands is coming to the surface for it's characters and it's audience. These moments are where Teh’s Crayfish and Ow’s Blue Cod take us to their fishy origins, before they found themselves unwillingly stuck in a tank waiting to be ‘chosen’. Nevertheless these moments last all too briefly without any real substance; we are left wanting and waiting. It is possible that this feeling is intentional, drawing parallels from us humans and our dealings with belief and mortality to our fish friends waiting to be ‘chosen’ by the ‘high ones’. It cannot come at the cost of no change or substantial journey for the characters on stage. It is all very well to remind us that fish are living things too, and it must be said that Liang’s script never once preaches veganism, but the best way to communicate the ‘Pixaresque’ concept of ‘life to the little things’ is to emit empathy for the afore mentioned little things. This just isn’t quite happening here.
The set is simple and effective, comprised of fake seaweed and rocks and a surrounding square of blue led lights to create the fish tank. The actors move freely and excitedly and Sam Mences’ lighting assists the general transformation of the environment. The size of BATS' Propeller stage is perfect for the piece but the real visual candy is Sarah Burren’s mesmerising costumes. Detailed and fun, the costumes just about steal the show.
Bubblelands has an undeniable charm and quirk, drawing humour from fact, with Crayfish peeing from his eyes when sexually excited and sparking a brief look at gender roles and entitlement. Blue Cod’s reaction to this is ingenious, using the nature of her Patriarchal upbringing against Crayfish, giving him a taste of his own misogyny turned misandry.
The best way to summarise Bubblelands is: promise. With textual themes of gender, identity, mortality and belief, mixed with the promising direction Leo and her talented team of designers and performers, they are well on their way to getting it all to the surface, just as long as they remember to breath.