Bubble Theatre (later London Bubble)

Company name: Bubble Theatre

Founder: Greater London Arts Association. Artistic Directors: Glen Walford (1972-74) (1976-79), Peter Coe (1974-76), Bob Carlton (1979-83), Bob Eaton (1983-85), Peter Rowe (1985-1989), Jonathan Petherbridge (1989-)

Established: 1972

Reason: To bring professional theatre to outer London boroughs

Current status: Still in operation. London Bubble now focuses on inter-generational theatre mainly in Southwark. It runs adult, children and young peoples’ classes, training for young people and supports language development in schools.

Area of Work: Community

Policy: 1970s: to bring theatre to those who would not normally visit the theatre. There was an emphasis on informality, fun, laughter, music, excitement and magic. From 1972-83 it operated mainly as a summer touring company.
1980s: from 1983 it continued its touring programme but also extended its work throughout the year with an emphasis on enabling people to develop their own theatre and related skills.

Structure: A Registered Charity with a Board of Trustees. Artistic Director- led and has consisted of a core staff of varying sizes.

Based: 9 Kingsford Street, London, NW5 (1972-1985), 3-5 Elephant Lane, London SE16 (1986-)

Funding: Originally from the Greater London Arts Association, Greater London Council, London Boroughs. Later from the Arts Council, Unity Theatre Trust and Heritage Lottery Fund.

Performance venues: Initially in a tent in parks, later promenade performances, site specific venues indoor and out. Community centres, small theatres, schools.

Audiences: Londoners from all social, economic, and cultural backgrounds

Company Work and Process: In 1971, the Greater London Arts Association set up a working party to look into the lack of theatre provision in the outer London Boroughs. The idea of a touring theatre was proposed to Glen Walford who was an Associate Director at the Royal Court. Glen had the idea of taking their own theatre, a portable structure, to the parks. Hear Glen Walford talking about the company’s origins. It would arrive like ‘a bubble’ and float off (Islington Gazette, 1979). The experience for the audience was to be affordable, informal and friendly. The shows would draw on popular culture, would be fun, colourful with plenty of music. A pattern developed of two main shows, one commissioned and one classic, a late night show and a children’s show. The first show was The London Blitz Show which Frank Hatherely researched and provided a rough scene order for. Glen and the company ‘fashioned a warm and vibrant show’ (Programme, 1973). The cast made further adaptations in response to the localities in which they performed. It was an informal musical documentary, being nostalgic for older people and informative for the younger generation. Staged in the round, audiences were involved in tasting food, entering a competition and singing. This show was formerly scripted for other companies to perform. The ‘Classic’ plays were freely adapted, often updated with colourful costumes, with the use of visual theatre and much music. A lively Bubble house style developed. Read about Working at Bubble.

Bubble continued touring the parks in the summer until 1983 when they were required by their funders to encourage communities to become more involved in theatre making. As well as the summer tours, they ran year- long programmes on three estates providing workshops in theatre skills to all ages. They also staged community events, for example The Golden Sole. This was an event which celebrated Thamesmead’s eighteenth year in 1985. Bubble had been working on the estate the year before with various community groups. Initially all the performers were involved in the workshops in their outreach work but in 1986, when Peter Rowe took over, he established a project team which included Deborah Bestwick, (who later became the Director of OvalHouse) Danny Braverman and Tony Gouvaie, to carry out participation work. Adrian Jackson also developed work on homelessness and later left to form Cardboard Citizens. Peter’s first job after leaving university was to work with Inter-Action at the Almost Free theatre and with various community arts projects and had an understanding of this area of work. In 1986, they involved over two hundred people in The Golden Plot as part of Bermondsey Community festival. This move to working with the community has been an important strand in Bubble’s work up to the present day. Read more about Participatory theatre.
In 1989, Jonathan Petherbridge took over as Artistic Director and took the touring work out of the tent, into the open air and established promenade performances. He wrote and directed several pantomimes. Jonathan has continued involving the community with classes, training and work in schools. He has produced plays with community actors often focusing on inter-generational work in a variety of venues.

Personal appraisal and thoughts:
Glen Watford set out to provide theatre that was an event. ‘We saw the raising of the tent as all part of the spectacle – the circus coming to town’. She also wanted to break down the formal relationship between performers and theatre. At the first production, The London Blitz Show, she said she ‘had never seen anything like it before, people brought their kids, their dogs, their shopping. They weren’t scared to hiss and boo.’ (Islington Gutter Press, 1979). By 1979 Bubble had built up a following and ‘groupies turned up to buy the costumes that were being auctioned off at the end of the season.’ ‘People know it’s going to be  exciting…we could be doing the yellow pages from a telephone directory for all they know and they still come.’ (Islington Gazette, 1979) Since people of a wide variety of social and cultural backgrounds came because they enjoyed the Bubble house style, Glen spoke of the need to ‘work on many levels: simply, colourfully, musically and amusingly yet with many layers of subtlety which can either be absorbed or rejected’ (Plays and Players, 1979). Glen did not think of Bubble as a fringe, community or an alternative theatre company. ‘It is no such thing, we’re a rep – only a travelling one. People want to be entertained, to see pretty girls and bright costumes, to hear catchy tunes and to follow a story which grips them and holds their interest’. (The Stage, 1979).
Peter Rowe, who took over in 1986, thought that Bubble was ‘alternative’. ‘Its whole purpose was to reach people who didn’t normally go to the theatre… to demystify theatre. The repertoire was not particularly radical… it was popular theatre in the best sense’ (Unfinished Histories interview 11th Mar, 2013).
Two plays which Peter directed could be termed ‘political’: I Fought the Yuppie Zombies from Hell (1988) by Alan Gilbey was a response to the re-development of the docks in Bermondsey and The Headless Body (1987) by Bryony Lavery was an anti-Thatcher metaphor. Hear Peter talking about these productions.
Peter agreed that the participation work could be regarded as ‘more political’ as its content was ‘dictated by the participants…about what concerned them’. Peter felt that there was a tension or contradiction between being a touring company and long-term engagement with the communities. Work in Rotherhithe, where Bubble has been based since 1986, was successful but Peter wonders what lasting legacy was left in some areas. Bubble was good at ‘galvanising’ a place – he remembers doing Plays in a Day with Danny Braverman in which a play was produced with community groups from nothing.
Although Artistic-Director led, Peter encouraged a collaborative approach and hoped the he was a ‘benevolent dictator’. There were no stars and everyone had to ‘muck in’, particularly with raising and striking the tent.
Peter remembers the ‘best of times’ and the ‘worst of times’ at Bubble.’ ‘It could be fantastic when the sun was shining and you had a full tent, the ground was firm under foot, it couldn’t be better’. There were lots of ‘highs and ‘fantastic shows’. It could be ‘horrendous’ when they had to spend a whole evening protecting the tent with the help of the police.’ Peter remembers the ‘sodden fields’ with wellies getting lost in the mud’ between the dressing room trailer and the tent.
Bubble had an important influence on Peter. He enjoyed the idea of theatre as an event- the feelings of excitement that this engendered. He liked and has continued working with actor-musicians and has developed his skills in musical theatre. The ‘direct address’ to the audience has informed his subsequent work.

Reviews:
The London Blitz Show (1972)
‘The whole event is affectionate, strictly apolitical and unashamedly soft-centred… the theatrical effects are kept to a minimum and are all the better for that: a striptease to ‘Hang Out Your Washing on the Siegfried Line’ is crucially interrupted by an air-raid.’ (Michael Coveney, Financial Times, 4th May 1972)
‘…a jolly concoction of songs and sketches supposedly staged in an air-raid shelter by a group of bomb-scared Londoners…it relies too heavily on a cosy sentimental nostalgia… the show could profitability be more stringent…Nevertheless the occasion itself is a remarkable one: a Hackney square filled by night with a sense of genuine communal festivity.’  (Michael Billington, The Guardian, 1972)
The Silver Jubilee Show (1977)
‘A highflying, free-wheeling show [in which] a salesman promotes his brand image of New Improved Monarchy…Her replica Highness is serenely played by Elaine Loudon… there is a gorgeous chorus of Corgis…’  (Donald Madgewick, Epsom and Ewell Advertiser,14th July, 1977)
Read more reviews here.

Productions: 

PRODUCTION NAMEVENUESDATES
The London Blitz Show
Writer: Frank Hatherley (devised) and compiled by the company
Director: Glen Walford
Cast: for the 1972 productions were drawn from the following pool of actors - Paul Blake, Mary Cunningham, Harry Ditson, Graham Gluck, Pauline Kelly, Helen Kruger, Stewart Preston, Francis Sargent, Fiona Victory, Maggie Wilkinson, Barry Wilmore
Design: Constantios Corovilas
Touring parks in 22 London Boroughs1972
Double Bubble
Writer: James Saunders
Director: Phil Partridge
Cast: see 1972 productions above
as above 1972
Three in a Bubble
Cast: see 1972 production above
as above1972
The London Blitz Show

Touring parks in Hackney, Lewisham, Islington, Hammersmith, Sutton, Enfield, Wandsworth Ealing, Hillingdon Camden, Redbridge1973
Jack the Ripper Show
Writer: Frank Hatherley (devised) and compiled by the company
Director: Glen Walford
Design: Amanda Colin
as above1973
In His Own Write
Writer: John Lennon
Director: Glen Walford
Design: Claire Lyth
Touring parks in Hackney, Lewisham, Islington, Hammersmith, Sutton, Enfield, Wandsworth Ealing, Hillingdon Camden, Redbridge1973
The London Pub Show
Director: Phil Partridge
Design: Claire Lyth
as above1973
The Adventures of Boffy (children)

as above1973
Custard, Liquorice and Cornflakes (children)

as above1973
Triple Bill

as above1973
Under Milk Wood
Writer: Dylan Thomas
Director: Ian Giles
Cast: for the 1974 productions were drawn from the following pool of actors -Diane Barrett, Brenda Bleythn, Gillian Brailey, Kenneth Drury, Paul Felber, Mike Harley, John Judd, Anthony Rowlands Andrew Whitfield
Design: Diana Greenwood
Touring parks In Hackney, Lewisham, Islington, Hammersmith, Sutton, Enfield, Wandsworth Ealing, Hillingdon Camden, Redbridge1974
Jack the Ripper Show
Director: Ian Giles
Cast: see 1974 productions above
Design: Diana Greenwood
as above1974
The London Pub Show
Writer: Shane Cannaughton and the company
Director: Glen Walford
Cast: see 1974 productions above
Designer: Diana Greenwood
Music: Jeremy Barlow
as above1974
An Apple a Day
Writer: John Antrobus
Director: Glen Walford
Cast: see 1974 productions above
Design: Jon Halle
as above1974
Kids Cabaret
Writer: Ian Giles (devised)
Director: Ian Giles
Cast: see 1974 productions above
Design: David Lewis
as above1974
Cages
Writer: Peter Coe (devised)
Director: Peter Coe
Touring London Parks1975
Story Theatre (children)
as above1975
The Great Exhibition

as above1975
The Trial of Marie Stopes

as above1975
The Last Minute Showas above1976
The Mask of SatanTouring London Parks1976
The Witch and the Circus (children)as above1976
The Beggar's Opera
Writer: John Gay
Director: Glen Walford
Cast: for the 1977 productions were drawn from the following pool of actors and actor-musicians - Colin Simms, Chris Hauke, Hugh Trethowan, John Ashton, Tina Jones, Elaine Loudon, Bill Marks, James Griffin, Christine Reynolds, Glen Watford
Music: Ian Milne
as above1977
The Silver Jubilee Show
Writer: Glen Watford, Mike Maynard and the company
Director: Glen Watford
Music: Rick Lloyd
Lyrics: Rick Lloyd
Cast: see 1977 productions above
as above1977
The Golden Samurai (children)
Writer: Geoffrey Case
Director: Adrian Harris
Cast: see 1977 productions above
Music: Ian Milne
as above1977
Lady Audley's Secret
Cast: see 1977 productions above
Touring London Parks1977
A Midsummer Night's Dreamas above1978
The Beggar's Opera
Writer: John Gay
as above1978
Gary Fogerty and the Devil's Circus (children)
Writer: John Hartoch and the company
Director: John Ashton
as above1978
The Bubble Band Show
Writer: Ian Milne (devised)
as above1978
The Minstrel, the Witch and the Wicked Duke (children)
Writer: Adrian Harris and the company
Touring London Parks1978
Kiss Me Quick
Writer: Michael Maynard and the company
Ravenscourt Park, Blackheath, Cheam Park, Harefield Green, Southall, Feltham Green, Hendon Fields, Highbury Fields1978
Twelfth Night
Director: Glen Walford
Cast included: Andy readman, Neil Boorman, Lewis Cowen, Barbara Thorne, Stuart Milligan,
Stephen Rayne
Design: Elaine Garrard
Touring London Parks1979
Two Lads from London
Writer: Kevin Robinson (adapted from the Beau Strategem)
as above1979
The Goose Girl (children)
Writer: Kevin Robinson
Director: Kevin Robinson
Cast:Sue Shattock, Neil Boorman, Glen Watford/Barbara Thorn, Keith Woodhams, John Benfield
Design: David Short
Music: Ian Milne
as above1979
Hero of the Gods
Writer: John Ashton
Director: John Ashton
Cast: Stuart Milligan, Barbara Thorn, Stephen Rayne, Janet Rawson
Touring London Parks1979
The Knight at the Bubble
Writer: Rony Robinson,
Director: Bob Carlton
Music: Paul Abrahams
as above1980
Mario's Magnificent Marvels (children)
Writer: Philip Whitchurch
Director: Philip Whitchurch
Design: Claire Lyth
as above1980
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Writer: Roy Herman
Director: Bob Carlton
Cast: Gary Oldman, Philip Whitchurch, John Markham, Roger Rowland, Karen Mann, Metin Marlow, Alwynne Taylor, Lill Roughley, Phillipa Davies
Design: Claire Lyth
as above1980
Big Shot:The Rise and Rise of Catgut Leone (children)
Writer: Paul Allen
Director: Bob Carlton
Design: Claire Lyth
Music: Paul Abrahams
as above1980
Three Days and a Porridge
Writer: Philip Whitchurch
Director: Bob Carlton
Design: Sue Mayes
Touring London Parks1980
The Five and a Half Labours of Arnoldas above1980
Happy End
Writer: Bertolt Brecht
Director: Bob Carlton
Cast: Billy Hughes, Richard Cary, Terry John, Aletta Lawson, Clive Corner, Anne Miles, Eve Adam
as above
Chichester Festival Theatre
1981
Dracula
Writer: Ken Hill
Director: Philip Whitworth
Touring London parks1981
The Tales of the Mountain and the Moon (children)as above1981
The Crown and the Crimson DaggerTouring London Parks1981
The Taming of the Shrewas above1982
Glitterballs
Writer: Stephen Wyatt
Cast included: Richard Blain, Clive Corner, Matthew Devitt
as above1982
The Hubble Bubble Band Show.
Writer: Joe Darlison
Cast: Nicky Furse, Richard Blain, John Ashby, Anne Miles, Clive Corner
as above
Also Rotherhithe Civic Centre Albion Street and Café Encore, Panton Street, SW1
1982
The Further Adventures of Bungalow Bill (children)
Writer: Rony Robinson
Cast: included Karen Mann, Colin Wakefield
Touring London Parks1982
Runaround SueStreet theatre in Wandsworth1982
The Return to the Forbidden Planet
Writer: Joe Darlison
Touring London parks1983
Rogue's Progress
Writer: Stephen Wyatt
Cast: included Kate Edgar, Nicky Furre
as above1983
Under the Hills and Far Away (children)
Writer: John Curry
as above1983
Pick Yourself Up
Writer: Stephen Wyatt
as above1983
Hell Can Be Heaven
Writer: Hereward K
Cast included: Matt Devitt
Touring London Parks1983
Duckin' 'n Divin
Writer: Tunde Ikoli
Director: Bob Eaton
Cast: included Diane adderley, Winston Crooke, Lou Sexty, Jenny Bolt, Lyn Rees
Music: Diane Adderley
as above1984
Caucasian Chalk Circle
Writer: Bertolt Brecht
Director: Bob Eaton
Cast: included Jenny Bolt, Winston Crooke, Lou Sexty
as above1984
Frankie's Friends (children)as above1984
In the Groove
Writer: Gillian Richmond
as above
also East Greenwich Community Centre
1984
Thamesmead Tanzi
Writer: Claire Luckham
Director: Robert Swain
Cast: Heather Goodman, Barry Gunner, Bob Eaton, Carole Rugier. Osaze Ehibor, Sakuntala Romanee, Mike O'Neill
Design: Cath Fitzgerald
Touring London Parks1985
Mummy
Writer: Bob Eaton
Director: Bob Eaton
Cast: Bill Glasgow, Niki Tinenti, Robert Swain, Carole Ruggier, Barry Cunner, Sakauntala Romanee, Mike O'Neil, Paddy Cunneen, Kate Rankin Best.
Music: Paddy Cuneen
Design: Cath Fitzgerald
as above1985
Out of the Video Box(children)
Writer: Beryl King, Val Baxter and the cast
Director: Val Baxter
Cast: Carole Ruggier, Osaze Ehibor, Barry Gunner, Heather Goodman, Paddy Cunneen
Design: Cath Fitzgerald
as above1985
Late Night Liveas above1985
The Golden Sole (a community production) Thamesmead1985
Blood Brothers
Writer: Willy Russell
Director: Peter Rowe
Blackheath, Downham, Bermondsey, Sutton, Hounslow, Ealing, Thamesmead1986
Magical Powers for Twenty Four Hours (children)
Writer: Tony Coult
as above1986
Can't Pay, Won't Pay
Writer: Dario Fo
as above1986
The Golden Plot (community production)Bermondsey1986
Thamesmead Transformers (community production)Thamesmead1986
The Headless Body
Writer Byrony Lavery
Director: Peter Rowe
Cast: Carole Russell, Jacqui-Lawrence David Urquhart, Lynn Whitehead, Steve Edwin, Nick Mercer, Liza Spenz
Touring London parks1987
Wild Child (children)
Writer: Shaun Prendergast
Cast: David Urquhart, Carol Russell, Nick Mercer
as above1987
The Cabaret of Dr. Caligari
Writer: Alan Gilbey
as above1987
Two Can Play
Director: Peter Rowe
Design: Paul Kondras
Cast: Jacqui Gordon-Lawrence, Basil Otain
as above1987
I Fought the Yuppie Zombies from Hell
Writer: Alan Gilbey
Director: Peter Rowe
Musical director: Alan Ellis
Cast: Sandra James Young, Liza Spenz, Simon Deacon, Kenneth Gardnier, Liz Kitchen, Jon Glentoran, Junior A. Walker, Conrad Schwarz, Sarah Davison
as above1988
Gawain and the Green Knight (children)Touring London Parks1988
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Director: Peter Rowe
as above1988
Cabaret Countryas above1988
Groping for Words
Writer; Sue Townsend
Director: Peter Rowe
Cast: Steve Sweeney, Sandra James Young, Penny Jones, John Halstead
Watermans Arts Centre, Brentford, Cranford Community School, cranford1988
Bobble Joe and the Buffalo Riders
Cast: Conrad Schwarz, Liza Spenz, Liz Kitchen, Simon Deacon
Touring London Parks1988

Interviewee reference: Peter Rowe and Chris Hauke.

Links:
www.londonbubble.org.uk
www.glenwalford.com
www.chrishauke.com

Existing archive material: Images, scripts, production notes, minutes, correspondence, finance, newspaper cuttings and publicity housed at London Bubble from 1972 onwards.

Bibliography:
Castles in the Air by Tony Rowlands, University College of Swansea, 1985 (in Bubble archive)
The London Bubble by Jacqueline McNerney, Diploma in Arts Administration, Roehampton Institute, 1986 (in Bubble archive)
Alternative Theatre Directory edited by Catherine Itzin, (Eyre Methuen 1979)
Mixed Fancies, Brenda Bleythn  (Simon and Schuster 2006)

Acknowledgements: This page was created by Iris Dove with the help of London Bubble Theatre Company, Peter Rowe and Chris Hauke. November 2013

The creation of this page was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.