'Bubba & Luvvie' is already a much travelled and developed work. It's been heard in a number of shorter - 20 and 40 minute - versions in New York and Sydney, before morphing into its current 90 minute (or so) version for its London Première. It might be just a tad on the long side now, but it certainly feels whole and complete rather than a work in progress.
In effect, this is a multimedia production. Enormous projections of waves, fish and words appear on the cyclorama at the back of the stage, and there's effective and evocative music, especially at the start. The multimedia elements give you a clue to the nature of the conceptual model. In many ways, it's almost like a cartoon – the animated variety - but live on stage with humans playing the characters. Another way of looking at might be as a cartoon strip from a newspaper. Even though there are emotionally intense moments of poignancy, sadness and anger, there's a fresh and playful feel to the piece.
The show is a two-hander described as a 'romantic whodunnit' and starts on a cliff edge overlooking the sea. A woman, obviously in disguise since she's wearing dark glasses and an ill-fitting wig, appears and tests out what seems to be some kind of eavesdropping device before she sits down on a bench seemingly waiting for someone. She's shortly joined by a man. It's unclear at first whether they know each other, but before long we learn that Bubba was a policeman and Luvvie is the former madam of several brothels. The two of them are to appear in court the next day as principal characters in a criminal trial – Bubba is the accused and Luvvie the principal witness against him. However, as we twist and weave our way through the characters' life stories, imaginings and musings, it becomes apparent that there's more to this relationship than the criminal proceedings.
Writer/ director Angus Strachan describes his work as an 'oral opera', and that's an apt description because the language of the play is strikingly rhythmic and intriguingly unusual. The dialogue is peppered with clichés – 'Home is where the heart is' and 'Truth is our foundation' – to list but a couple of examples. These become more powerful than we generally might acknowledge because they are combined with other more original and inventive lines which conjure up vivid, wide-ranging imagery. All of this is delivered largely in quick-fire bursts that require impeccable timing from the performers, and these two actors do a staggeringly fine job with the delivery, pacing and the considerable volume of material. Mia Soteriou's Luvvie is deliberately understated and she's the calmer, more controlled of the two characters – well, for the most part, that is. In almost perfect contrast with Luvvie, Gerard McDermott's Bubba is frenetic and decidedly quirky. Think of Vic Reeves' persona, for example, and you're probably on the right tracks.
What's always rewarding about seeing fringe shows is that you often get to see, in the words of the Monty Python team, 'something completely different'. 'Bubba & Luvvie' is certainly that. And I suspect there won't be universal agreement on its message or in the appreciation of its style. To garner some other views, I took along 3 irregular theatre-goers with ages ranging from 16 to nearly 60. There was, however, some universality in the verdict of this small jury – they all loved it. And rightly so, because it embodies rather catholic influences inventively mixed to produce a show that is both refreshingly novel and idiosyncratically compelling. Well written and directed, well acted and well-worth seeing.