"Double, double toil and trouble / Fire burn and cauldron bubble."
Macbeth, of course, but The Scottish Play is not the only place one finds bubbles in theatre - and Insufficiency (at the Riverside Studios until 20 October) has plenty of toil and trouble to go with the fizz.
Jerzy Krzyz (Tim Dutton) is working on the science of bubbles at an American University and looking for the security that comes with tenure some four years after his arrival from Poland. He's a spiky character ill-suited to the stuffy ways of building an academic profile through publishing in peer-reviewed journals - but he brings in money (from Dom Perignon no less) and bubbleology might just be the key to explaining The Universe. And though he exasperates his head of department (Walter van Dyk), he has charmed his secretary (Sara Griffiths) and the BBC like his eccentric, charismatic ways too. But then, not long after Jerzy's application for tenure has been turned down, two-thirds of the committee keel over soon after drinking some of Jerzy's champagne. Coincidence? Or revenge killing? The audience is the jury.
Though Carl Djerassi's black comedy has the laudable aim of introducing / explaining / popularising science through drama, it falls rather flat for want of humour and tension - the jokes aren't funny enough and the tension is dissipated by too much exposition in too many flashbacks. At two hours including the interval, 15 scenes give Tim Dutton too much time to annoy us as much as his colleagues with his ever-jabbing finger (but not enough time for us to find out more from Sara Griffiths, who does all she can with a terribly under-written part).
In the end, Insufficiency is more imbalanced than insufficent. There are too few suspects for a whodunnit, too few laughs for a comedy and too few faculty feuds for a History Man style university play. And that's a shame, because contemporary science can offer the most thrilling material for drama - though this production lacks the champagne moments it needed to take off.