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Theatre Review: Bouncers

David Simper gladly bussed it down to the Grand Theatre to see one of his favourite plays and was not disappointed at its latest reboot.

I first saw Bouncers at college in 1983 and immediately recognised its brilliance. A play written by a working-class person (John Godber), about working-class people, living working-class lives.

I saw it again at the Coventry Belgrade Theatre in the late ’90s. At one stage the characters bemoan the amount they have spent on a night out – over the intervening period that sum had gone from £15 to £70. Here the show is set back in the ’80s and the sum is back to £35.

The show’s premise is a drunken and ritualistic night on the town portrayed from the perspective of the boys, the girls and the bouncers; all played by the same four male actors. Behaviour is recognisably puerile and the atmosphere sometimes becomes squalid. Why are these people behaving in this bizarre way? Because it takes them out of their hard and hum drum lives just for a few hours.

The set’s backdrop is the entrance to Mr Cinders’ night club. Potted plants and beer barrels (keg of course) dot the stage, the latter playing multiple roles including becoming a speeding taxi. This is well thought though and the space easily portrays all the environments needed.

We see the three groups making their preparations before things come to a high and then sink to hilarious lows, as the evening progresses and the number of drinks consumed increases.

The actors switch between roles with bewildering fluidity. Action tends to centre on bouncer ‘Lucky’ Eric who has four spotlit monologues, drawing disgusted pain as he presents vignettes of the culture around him. Clearly a powerful, potentially violent, yet sensitive man, Eric is far from lucky and misses his departed wife and kids. His rivalry with Judd is a running theme.

We see the three groups making their preparations before things come to a high and then sink to hilarious lows as the evening progresses and the number of drinks consumed increases. The bouncers freeze outside the club and look forward to violence to break the tedium. Inevitably silly rivalries and arguments break out. It is all so true, and I was never a great club goer. The description of the club toilet is so close to that of our student union on a Friday night that I can feel my bile rising as I write.

Aside from Eric, who nevertheless has been hurt in love, the male characters are remorselessly misogynistic. Women are targets for sex and men generally sexual predators, although also incompetent. Was the ’80s really as bad as that, I was drunk a lot of the time? But if the characters are misogynistic, the play isn’t. It’s using humour to make some very strong points, capped off by a short monologue at the end. The description of those “leftover” at the end of the night, including our heroes, is a little stomach churning, as is the over 25s “grab a gran” night, well portrayed once more by a repulsed Eric.

Is this sounding a little grim? Well there is that undercurrent and I don’t remember this so much in the two previous versions, which seemed to play it more for laughs. Times change. But the play is still hilarious with both physical gags and sharp one-liners. It is extremely closely observed and uses humour to examine some serious issues. One of Eric’s monologues addresses the unwanted pregnancies that can come from the male’s ruthless pursuit of sex, although the ‘boys’ have all gone out armed with prophylatics. When sex does happen it is generally squalid and on one occasion includes eating a pizza at the same time. In this context we can forgive the various stoutist jokes applied to both males and females.

In relating to this play, it helps if you remembered the ’80s somewhat from the characters’ perspectives. The music plays a big role, but there are other references such as to shops that don’t exist anymore.

This is a harder edged version of this play than I have seen previously, quite brutal at times, but it’s revealing important truths. Shorn of any real opportunity, what is presented here might be the only joy that people have in their lives. There are notes of hope, with carousers potentially meeting their life partners. The show was also much more musical than I remembered, featuring short song and dance numbers. Those numbers were brilliantly selected from the ’80s record collection.

The acting was brilliant, such marvellous technique. It would have been nice to have a female cast member after all these years – I see no reason why that could not work, there are plenty of female door staff.

This play remains very funny, but it always had a hard edge. Now, suddenly, it has a core of steel.

Bouncers is at the Grand Theatre until 24th February. Buy tickets here. Read our Q&A with playwright John Godber here.

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    I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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