John Godber’s fluid exploration of British society, drinking culture and nightlife in the 1980s is a fast-paced romp through fragments of characters’ lives, from upper-class champagne-quaffing, to alcohol-fuelled nights on the tiles, all under the supervision of the ever-present bouncers. This revival of the play originated by Godber’s own Hull Truck Theatre Company seeks in part to modernise some of the now outdated references but, in doing so, somewhat muddles its message, the impact of which is never fully overcome by the varied performances of the cast.
Bouncers is enjoyable to watch, but would benefit from further work.
When the play debuted, many of the depictions of the characters, though wildly over-exaggerated in order to satirise aspects of their behaviour, were recognisable as well-worn figures within society, and part of the humour was generated through Godber’s sharp observational wit. This presents a difficulty for any new staging – does a similar portrayal of the ‘80s merit new production? Or how might the text be used to highlight the parallel issues of the 21st Century? As it happens, the company have tried to re-contextualise the play, but, with the bulk of the piece and, most incongruously, its various attitudes, remaining very much in the ‘80s, the piece feels muddled at best. and actually a missed opportunity to update the ‘social comment’ aspect of the text to the present.
Much of the humour of this piece, and, accordingly, its real driving force, comes from our subverted expectations when the ultra-macho bouncers of the beginning of the show transform before our eyes into a selection of completely alternative figures – for example ladies having their hair done at a salon. In this performance there did seem to be varying levels of commitment to plunging into the required level of caricature, with some consequently half-hearted characters appearing. What did work well was the first speech of ‘Lucky Eric’, played by Christian Darnell, with this head of the bouncer team delivering some considered and sobering words with real impact. It is a real shame that Eric’s subsequent speeches have been brutally reduced and cut.
At times, each performer does come to the fore with successful portrayals of some of their characters, but greater consistency would be beneficial. Furthermore, the piece ends too abruptly to have any meaningful effect. Despite all this, Bouncers is enjoyable to watch, but would benefit from further work.