DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Bouncers – Theatre Royal, Wakefield

Writer/Director: John Godber

Designer: Graham Kirk

Composer: Joey Firth Music

Choreographer: Lynette Pickering

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

It’s over 40 years since the first version of Bouncers was staged at the Edinburgh Festival, some 35 years since, in its mature form, it set out on the road to international success. For a play that reflects the contemporary world so acutely, that’s a long time, not long enough for it to become a period piece, but too long for it still to appear up to the minute.

So it’s hardly surprising that John Godber has chosen to update his most popular play. More contemporary dance music, though not really memorable in itself, creates a 21stCentury atmosphere and provides the right rhythm for the moves and poses choreographed by Lynette Pickering. More important still is the youthfulness of the cast: as John Godber points out in the programme, the cast for revivals has tended to grow older along with him. The current quartet lacks some of the drollery and wry irony of, for instance, the cast of the 2015 Wakefield revival, but compensates with energy and style and precision of movement.

Lest anyone is still unaware of the plot (if that’s the right word) of Bouncers, four contrasting characters are manning the door at the Northern club. The play takes us through maybe seven hours in 100 minutes of stage time. A lot happens, but nothing really out of the ordinary. Meanwhile, various groups prepare for their night out, then descend upon the club, get drunk, have minor disasters, spend crazy amounts and end up unsure whether they’ve really had the night of their lives.

Godber’s great skill – and that of the actors – is in switching the foursome from bouncers to giddy girls or youths up for it or Hooray Henries with their rugger songs, all in a turn or a gesture. At times, however, the updating is less than convincing. The caricatures, especially the hideous public school boys, sometimes seem all too 1980s and the totally unreconstructed barber, nipping out his fag and suggesting something for the weekend, belongs in a different age.

Bouncers balances two different elements. The main one is entertainment, pure and simple (and sometimes not quite so pure). Snapshot scenes with bouncers or clubbers bring a heightened comic reality to familiar events and anything is good for a laugh. In between Lucky Eric, the philosopher/bouncer, reflects on serious matters, notably the dangers to the young of this drably hedonistic life, and a fine serious scene late in the play seems like an elegy for folly. Godber is fond of signaling up social comment, a smart idea so we get the message, but we also get the laugh.

Frazer Hammill as Lucky Eric is the most developed character of the four, bringing out his underlying melancholy well, but Peter McMillan (Judd), Lamin Touray (Ralph) and Duncan Riches (Les) all establish individual personalities and skilfully negotiate changes of role – and even gender.

Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed

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