If you’ve been loafing around the South Bank recently you might have seen some inflatable purple legs, or indeed some udders, pointing skywards. In fact it’s a giant purple tent and it houses a festival called Udderbelly, which runs for almost three months every year. Udderbelly has been going, and growing, since 2009. It is big on comedy, cabaret and circus but it also has some enticing family shows which children will love.
We headed to the big purple cow on a gloomy Saturday afternoon a couple of weekends ago, soon after the opening of the festival. The show was the Amazing Bubble Man, which sounded full of promise. The Bubble Man himself is Louis Pearl, an American ‘bubbleologist’ who is, and I’m sure wouldn’t mind me saying, a bit of a science geek when it comes to bubbles. Yes he puts on a snazzy stage outfit, and tells a few jokes, but underneath he is a man obsessed with bubbles and, as an audience member, that is why you are there and what you want to see.
The stage itself is covered with an intriguing array of buckets, pans, pulleys, pipes, hoses, and trays. For some reason I wanted to know exactly what the bubble mixture was made of (and how sticky it was). Much of the performance is accompanied by Jet Black Pearl, on accordion and flute and dressed in red stripey tights, and with quite a haunting voice – her singing adds a melancholy edge to the show, and almost highlights the couple’s extraordinary interest in bubbles: ‘Bubbles coming out of my ears/ Make my troubles disappear’.
Like an elaborate chemist playing around in his home-lab, Louis Pearl controls some of his bubbles, and loses control of others. They have their rules, but they don’t always obey them. He tries to explain the science behind why they behave as they do (stuff about gravity, surface tension, whether the surface has hair on it or not – illustrating this point by using a bald volunteer from the audience). However, the main pleasure is not in grasping the science, but in watching the bubbles. Tiny ones, giant ones, bubbles the size of small children wrapping all the way round small children, massive tunnels made of (guess what?) bubble. My daughter’s favourites were the square-shaped bubbles, and both kids loved it when Pearl made silly, fantastical bubble creations on people’s heads.
Pearl makes bubbles inside bubbles, he fills them with smoke, he makes ‘torcanos’ (tornados mixed with volcanos), and pops them by piercing them. He sends some floating upwards into the rigging, and asks children from the audience to jump up and kiss them.
He also uses the oldest joke in the book – pretend accidental squirting of people in the audience with a watergun – total genius! The kids all shriek with laughter and it’s impossible not to crack a smile.
Louis Pearl really is an amazing bubble man. He uses the properties of bubbles, some soap and some buckets to delight and entertain audiences around the world. My too-cool kids who have perfected the art of the bored stare both used the word ‘awesome’ to describe this, and ‘wow’ed and laughed their way throughout the show. We would recommend this show to anyone, it appeals to all age groups, and the Udderbelly tent was packed to the udders.
One last unusual thing to note: my auntie and uncle are regular readers of this blog, for which I am eternally grateful. I noticed on his website that Louis Pearl’s headquarters are on Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, California, which I believe they know pretty well. If you ever see Louis, do please go and say hi, tell him we loved his tour at Udderbelly Festival!
Udderbelly Festival is on at the South Bank until 17th July.
For info see the website at http://www.udderbelly.co.uk/
Disclosure: We were given free tickets to see The Amazing Bubble Man for the purpose of this review. All opinions are my own. The photos are mine, apart from the production photo of Louis Pearl which is borrowed from his website.