Writers: John Godber and Jane Thornton
Light/Sound: Alistair Fox
Director: Neil Knipe
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
John Godber wrote his well-known ‘lads’ play Bouncers in 1977 and it was inevitable that a female version would be conceived, so Shakers was created in 1985 in collaboration with Jane Thornton. To this day, big brother Bouncers is still much more famous and much more often onstage than its lesser-known sibling – which is surprising in these enlightened days of increased female equality. Somewhat depressingly, both these works are as relevant today as they were when they were written 30/40-odd years ago. Nothing much changes in the club and entertainment scene, and sadly we still find that the sexual harassment and stereotyping at the core of these plays is still much at the fore of life today.
The set in the Carriageworks Theatre is blank, and only three upright chairs make up props and furniture. The four girls who comprise the cast are dressed in skintight black jeans with braces, white shirts and red aprons and bowties. They are all wonderfully agile, energetic and spot on with the character change timing. Once or twice words were stumbled over, but that was minor and maybe to be expected at the frenetic pace they were forced to deliver their diction. These girls morph seamlessly from demure waitresses in the Shakers cocktail bar/restaurant to all the punters who visit. They range from factory girls aiming to get ‘wasted’; vulgar lads and ladettes out on the town; Hooray Henrys and Henriettas splashing their cash and demeaning waitresses; theatregoers; lovey-dovey couples; birthday party bashers; and everyone in between. All levels of life are played out before the tired eyes of the long-suffering waiting-on staff who just want to get their shift over and leave. It’s a grin-and-bear-it, whatever it is, on a grand scale. The frenzied action is helped along by musical accompaniment of inevitable tracks such as Material Girl, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Agadoo, The Birdie Song and Xanadu. Maybe the funniest part of the evening is when the girls operatically mime along to the Elaine Paige/Barbara Dickson number I Know Him So Well, from the musical Chess.
Superficially this is what Shakers is all about, in the same way that Bouncers portrays nightclub life, but it soon becomes clear that the female version goes deeper. Yes, these four girls are hard, brash, northern lasses, but we get under their skin and see into their lives and feelings much more than we do with the bouncers. Adele (Leanne O’Rourke) has to work to support her beloved daughter after ‘her bloke’ upped and left with another girl. We feel for her when she confesses that she sometimes thinks maybe life would be easier without her child … but she’s willing to put up with almost anything to keep the job she needs, even to the extent of wearing shorts at work, to the absolute horror of the others. Carol (Olivia Cole) is strident and confident, a graduate who is unable to find the type of work that she’s qualified for. The greatest insult to Carol is when horrible customers refer to her as a stupid waitress. Mel (Sophia Becie) comes over as the hardest of the quartet, all chewing gum and curled lip, but she has probably the saddest story of all. She’s about to marry Steve, but carries the secret of an abortion in faraway Scotland some years ago. Should she tell him, should she not? Adele hopes Mel “will be as happy as [she] thought she’d be”, but can that be with a big secret? Then finally there’s Nicky (Beccie Allen) who seems bouncy and relatively happy with her lot, until we hear that she has landed a dancing job on a cruise line – “to where? to Norway?! it’s cold!”, the others exclaim. She’s terrified she won’t fit into the tiny costumes and there’s a suggestion of topless performances… Added to this she’s still idealistically looking for love, “plenty more fish in the sea” … “but she’s not looking for a fish”.
At face value, Shakers seems to be a trivial comedy showcasing girls behaving badly and brandishing every stereotypical character out there on the town, but actually, the laughter is hollow when the sad lives of the girls emerge. It’s a work that has to be viewed from a greater depth and has maybe taken on more relevance in recent times in light of the sexual scandals that have emerged throughout the entertainment world. All that said, however – and it’s very hard and probably wrong to say this – there is a feeling that shakers can never be bouncers.
Reviewed on 6 April 2018 | image: Contributed