“AN INTERESTING AND THOUGHT-PROVOKING LOOK AT THE WORLD POSTCOMMUNISM, WHICH BEGS THE QUESTION, IS THERE SUCH THING AS HAPPY EVER AFTER?”
by Helen Cusack
Polish Theatre Ireland presents a nostalgic portrayal of communist Poland in its one-woman show, Bubble Revolution. Written by Julia Holewińska and translated into English by Artur Zapałowski, it explores the dramatic effects of the fall of communism on the life of the 1980s child, for whom the sudden exposure to the freedom and endless possibilities of Western capitalist society is at first exciting, but then becomes a dangerous and frightening thing. Told in monologue form, we see Wictoria (Kasia Lech) transition between the innocent and excitable child who finds endless joy in Donald Duck bubblegum and sneaking an extra spoonful or two of Nutella which her father has smuggled from West Germany, and the Westernised ‘Vica’, a single mother, lost, frightened, and disillusioned by the fairytale of capitalism and the promise of ‘happy ever after’.
There is a real sense of community theatre about this piece. The audience are welcomed by the company with a glass of wine into a reception-come-museum area, curated by Anna Wolf and Kasia Lech, before they enter the theatre, and are invited to explore the posters and mementos of childhood that adorn the walls. The homemade posters and handwritten memories carry a strong sense of community and place and are reminiscent of school projects, in keeping with the nostalgic theme of the piece.
The set consists of an array of multicoloured balloons, and a small cardboard box, from which Wictoria pulls a few props: a mobile phone, a toy car, empty Coca-Cola and Fanta cans, and Donald Duck bubblegum. The theatre itself is quite small, and adds to the sense of claustrophobia experienced by Vica as an adult, trapped in the misery of what was supposed to be a euphoric free world, yet longing to return to the paradoxical ‘fairytale’ of her communist childhood.
Lech makes swift transitions between her child and adult characters, and is a skilled and charismatic performer. She tends to speak quite fast and because of this at times her accent is difficult to understand, and so some of the content is lost. Holewińska writes about an experience of childhood that is specifically Polish, and while the Irish audience is invited into this story by Lech’s energetic performance and Shona Weyme’s screen projections, many names and cultural references are unfortunately lost.
It is also an interesting choice to have some of the performances in the original Polish, as it would appear to greatly affect the meaning of the play. The importance of Poland’s flirtation with the West is highlighted by Vica’s relationship with an Italian man, conversations with whom are always directed to the left or west of the stage, and by the abundance of references to global food and drink companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds. The fact that Vica is in such distress about the loss of her Polish identity and sense of self is directly conveyed by her compulsion to express herself in a language that isn’t her native tongue. I imagine the audiences at the Polish-language performances might have a different interpretation.
The transitions between Wictoria the child and Vica the adult, between reality, nostalgic flashbacks and fantasy, are assisted by the lighting and sound design by Conor Neville and Konrad Kania. The costume design consists of a shin-length green satin dress with a hoop skirt. The fairytale princess-style dress is suggestive of the saying ‘the grass is always greener’, as Vica eventually sheds the dress along with her distorted ‘happy ever after’ ideal and both figuratively and literally bursts her bubble, wishing to return to the comfort of her communist childhood. “Mr Lenin, do you copy? Is there room for one more in your rocketship?”
It is surprising that Vica’s son doesn’t feature more as a part of her story, as the main focus of her turmoil seems to be the failed relationship with her Italian lover, the father of her child. The play’s climax is somewhat lost as the play lacks an overall sense of direction, which could be the point, as Vica admits there is “nothing to fight for”. The ending is ambiguous as it returns to the fairytale theme that was presented to us at the beginning, as her son asks her to “tell [him] a fairytale” and it is unclear as to whether she has a new fairytale to tell him, whether she or the new capitalist world has anything left to hope for.
Bubble Revolution is an interesting and thought-provoking look at the world postcommunism, which begs the question, is there such thing as happy ever after?