Review: Bouncers, Bradford Alhambra, 12/09/2012


When? Wednesday 12th September 2012
Alhambra Theatre, Bradford, stalls
  Ace Bhatti, Don Gilet, William Ilkley, Ian Reddington

When Yorkshire playwright John Godber‘s hit comedy Bouncers debuted some 35 years ago at his beloved Hull Truck Theatre, it proved an instant hit. The production has seen numerous re-writes and updates in the decades which followed its 1977 premiere, including the fantastically-named ‘1990’s remix’ – and presently – the 2012 tour from Watershed Productions, for which Godber has again taken the reigns as director. The play is widely regarded as being culturally significant; its legacy reinforced by its status as a GCSE text today – indeed, Bouncers proves just as watchable for a seasoned theatregoer as for a large group of difficult-to-please teenage students.

Bouncers is an observational piece telling the story of four lads and four lasses on a night out as they try to dance, drink, vomit, urinate and fart their way to ‘happiness’. Night after night, weekend after weekend, the Bouncers watch on; they’ve seen it all before. Ralph and Les are passive – normal; Lucky Eric is very strange – Judd is a psychopath. The roles are played by the same four actors, dressed in plain black suits; when playing the girls, a limp wrist, a mince and a glittery handbag are deployed as visual aids; the lads swagger their way into Asylum Nightclub and the Bouncers grimace, banter and otherwise wallow in their self-loathing. There are laughs aplenty throughout; the hilarious ‘sex scene’ was wonderfully executed (though be warned, strobe lights are used for this segment) and, although it might be considered cheap laughs by some, the performances as the girls on their night out were surprisingly genuine. There was something oddly amusing about the characters simply announcing their names when they entered – ala the Teletubbies – and I will never look at a Smurf the same way again.

It is impossible to ignore the similarities of Godber’s writing to that of fellow popular playwright Willy Russell; both men are from working class backgrounds (Godber is the son of a miner from a West Yorkshire mining town) and both write with a belt of much-needed humour, with younger people firmly in mind. They also both clearly have a fondness for rhyming couplets, which are used at the beginning and end of the play as a simple framing device which brought closure to the ‘night out’ in a very apt manner. The play is observational in a very literal way; there is little exposition or plot over the course of the two hours, neither is there too much fleshing out of the characters. The Bouncers are the most developed; Lucky Eric, who breaks into monologue throughout the play, arguably takes on the mantle of creating dramatic impetus. Part amateur philosopher, large part pervert, I was unsure what to make of his rambling speeches about young girls ‘soft, tender thighs’ and his witnessing of what appeared to be a serious sexual assault in a pub, which he claimed ‘ … aroused him more than ever before’. Whilst the content was not shocking by modern standards, it felt strangely out of place in the context of an otherwise amusing comedy and left me squirming in my seat in places; like listening to bad ‘sexual fiction’, read by a fifty year old on audio book.

Godber’s 2012 updates are plentiful and a mixed success; thumping modern club music is pumped out throughout the evening with Rhianna, Jessie J (and the Outhere Brothers (?)) – and the like – setting the scene very much in the modern day. There is a half-hearted stab at social and economic commentary, which I found quite hard to swallow; Godber’s belief that young people are victims of the society they have grown up in was always certain to divide an audience who didn’t pay to see social comment – from either end of the political spectrum. Some changes (or lack thereof) are simply factually incorrect; the opening verse implies patrons need to wear a suit to enter a 2012 nightclub, that young girls go to a salon to get a large beehive perm for a night out (or young men go to smokey, terrifying barber shops to get a ‘Joey Barton’ do) – or, for that matter, that groups of young women dance around their handbags in the middle of the nightclub dance floor and groups of men compare the size of their penises and urinate on each other for laughs in the toilets. I’m not sure I’ll ever know what a ‘large shot’ is either. These may seem small inaccuracies, but for a play which is not narrative driven but based on Godber’s interpretation of young people’s actual lives in 2012, these are errors which need correcting to ensure credibility with the people Godber is attempting to portray.

The cast do well across the board, but William Ilkley gives the stand-out turn as wind-up merchant Judd, making the most of his one-liners and truly looking the part to boot. Ian Reddington is fine as Lucky Eric, but for reasons of keeping my dinner down I can’t dwell on the speeches he is given to recite. Ace Bhatti is hilarious in a brief cameo as a Club DJ and is wonderful as Suzie, particularly in the nightclub scenes. Finally Don Gilet as Les isn’t given a lot to do, but earns plenty of laughs when given the opportunity.

Bouncers is an amusing few hours which zip along nicely; it doesn’t work as a piece of social commentary but as a light-hearted comedy, accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, it proves a successful revival. John Godber, who was in attendance himself, will be delighted with the ovation his ‘baby’ received – and I’m sure this isn’t the last incarnation we will see of Bouncers in the years to come.

- Harry Zing

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