Bubble Revolution from Polish Theatre Ireland is one woman’s story of childhood and adolescence in Poland, before and after the fall of communism. She undergoes her own revolution as she grows up, and gets to indulge her fantasies of western consumer goods against a backdrop of major social upheaval – before migrating, as many others have, to the UK and Ireland.
Actor and co-creator Kasia Lech is chirpy and confiding, comfortably portraying protagonist Wiktoria as she grows up through the play. We discover her obsessions with bubble gum, and how her father’s gift of Nutella from West Germany is perhaps the greatest thing ever in a country stuck, as she says, “between the Russians and the Krauts”. Solidarity and free elections bring idealised images of the West closer, and she abandons her all-too-Polish name – with its ‘w’ and its ‘k’ – for Vica.
The fall of communism impacts her family in more important ways than just the introduction of McDonalds and Hubba Bubba, but the ramifications aren’t made the focus of the piece. The increased freedom also enables her parents to follow their own desires: her mother indulges a love of cosmetics to try to look like Krystle Carrington, and her father takes the opportunity to live a more louche life. Everyone's self-indulgence increases the strains on the family, leaving Vica without guidance at a key point in her life.
The show is described as a manifesto for thirty-year-old Poles, the biggest group emigrating to the UK and Ireland after Poland’s 2004 accession to the EU. “Manifesto” is perhaps putting it a little strongly, but the show certainly resonated very strongly with those in the audience matching that description – two women in front of me were gasping with delight, recognising the references and Polish pop songs . But that doesn’t mean there isn’t something for everyone: obsessions with consumer products, popular music and falling in love are fairly universal, and it’s a reminder that though details may vary, we’re really not that different from one culture to another.
Other than the bubble gum that was Vica’s first obsession, I couldn’t quite see what the bubble revolution was – but late in the show she talks of bubble bursting, as the Polish economy tanks in the capitalist system. Corruption is endemic, and – though not explicitly laid out – we hear of the forces driving the exodus of the young. The show would be a less nostalgia-driven and more effective piece if events outside Vica’s immediate sphere were given greater prominence. There is something to be gained in examining how the bursting of the western-inspired bubble has ironically driven many Poles west, and often to a less than warm welcome.
As it stands, Bubble Revolution is an enjoyable hour in the company of the charming Wiktoria/Vica, as she grows up in a society different to, but recognisable from, our own. We learn a little more about life in Poland in that era too. However, I can’t help feeling that there is more to be mined about how the changes in Polish economics and society affected Vica’s life, and determined her choices.