THE action never flags in John Godber’s Bouncers, running at Malvern Theatres until Saturday, but while it’s never less than engaging and laugh-out loud funny, the updated script has an odd awkwardness that comes from shoehorning in contemporary references.
The stereotypes portrayed – the drunken, giggly girls and the lairy lager-fuelled lads out on the pull – belong to an era that pre-dates a world of social media and texting, a time when jukeboxes were part of the furniture in any pub, and Cheryl and Rihanna hadn’t even been born.
There’s little doubt that the observations at the core of Bouncers are as true today as they were in the 80s – the desperate drunken weekend mating game is as much a ritual today as it was then, but there’s something about the setting that refuses to allow the updated script to work as efficiently as in earlier stagingsBut a brilliant cast, with Ian Reddington especially good as Lucky Eric, pulls off the physical demands of the piece with considerable panache – the memory of Ace Bhatti as Sexy Susi and Don Gilet as the reluctant suitor of clunky Elaine lingers. Playing three characters apiece, with no more than a handbag to aid the swift switches, Reddington, Bhatti, Gilet and William Ilkley, bring energy, conviction and a regular supply of laughs – the spectacle of Reddington and Bhatti acting out a porn movie then re-winding drew spontaneous applause – with Ian Reddington adding a touching degree of pathos and resignation to Lucky Eric’s four speeches.
Plays are always a risky business in the current economic climate, so to fill such a large space as Stoke-on-Trent’s Regent Theatre, the product has to be right or you risk playing to about 4 rows of audience. Luckily for John Godber’s comedy classic Bouncers this is exactly the right product to fill more than a few seats and raise a smile on a chilly winters evening.
This revamped version of the show, directed by Godber himself takes the classic and much loved bouncers and drags it kicking and screaming into the 21st century, with references to The Million Pound Drop and Nick Grimshaw thrown in to keep it current, and the likes of The Wanted and Rihanna used as the club’s soundtrack.
If you haven’t seen Bouncers before it’s a must see piece of theatre, and easily one of the most accessible and well-written pieces of ensemble theatre to ever grace British stages.
The stellar cast is made up made of some of the stages finest actors (although you may recognise them as previous cast members of Coronation Street and Eastenders) including Ace Bhatti, Don Gilet, William Ilkley and Ian Reddington. The four actors faultlessly deliver three characters each, as they take on the role of the bouncers themselves, a group of girls celebrating a 21st birthday (handbags are used to represent this) and the customary group of ‘lads’ on a night out.
What’s a real testament to the actors’ performances is that by the second half of the show you know what characters you’re going to see next simply by their movements and mannerisms, a shining example of truly embodying a role if ever there was one.
Although together the entire cast are undeniably strong, the stand out performance belongs to Ian Reddington, who’s wry and touching set of monologues about the pitfalls of British drinking culture delivers depth to what otherwise could seem a slightly empty production in terms of characterization.
Although the play has no real ‘plot’ as such, it comprises of a series of loosely connected vignettes, this style of writing works perfectly for Godber’s style and allows for many set-pieces to shine through the performance. The biggest audience reaction of the night comes from a recreation by the cast of watching a ‘blueie’ on a projector, a scene which surprisingly hasn’t been updated and does stand out as a slightly out-dated moment, yet no doubt left in for its sheer hilarity.
Bouncers is a testament to the brilliance and power of the spoken word and physical theatre working in motion, with such scant props and only a smattering of music the fact the cast manage to hold together an engaging performance in such a large space just proves the quality of both the actors and the writing. Easily one of the best plays The Regent Theatre has played host to in years.