Bouncers is one of the most performed plays in the UK and there can be no doubt that it can still pack out a house. This city shows up for John Godber’s work and this play is a definite audience favourite. Perhaps there is a weight of expectation here. The question of the night is not ‘how good is this play?’ but ‘how good is this production?’
The verdict? Godber knows how to stage his own work. It’s a dynamic production, filled with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it physical comedy. Graham Kirk’s set is a brilliant aid to the story telling. The simple use of lights and railings to create space and character is impeccable; a perfect match of designer and director.
An attempt has been made to drag Bouncers into the twenty-first-century. It’s been infused with a modern soundtrack and some more up-to-date cultural references. Mostly this gives the production a revived and relevant energy, but there are a few too many for my liking. It seemed to be screaming ‘look, we’re current’ too loudly. Also, despite Lynette Pickering’s excellent movement work, which creates some of this production’s most memorable images, sometimes the play gets lost in the throb of the music.
Bouncers is a comedy with a social heart, attempting to make a genuine point about the futility of the club lifestyle enjoyed by the working classes. The magic of this is in Godber’s inclusive writing, he writes with us, not about us. Unfortunately, I feel this is an element that is missing in the update. The cast take selfies while shouting “yaaaasss” and I have to wonder whether a single man clubbing in 2019 has ever done so. Occasionally Godber’s observational comedy is spot on. There is a particularly brilliant moment as the female characters (played by the Bouncers) begin dancing together, leading into brilliant visual gag that all of the women in the audience will recognise. The overwhelming feeling for me as an actual twenty-something in the room though, is not that I am being laughed with, but being laughed at. The caricaturing of the women, in particular, seems incredibly out of touch with the social landscape we are in. At the end of the day, it is probable that Godber is trying to critique problematic attitudes and not perpetuate them – something heavily suggested by Lucky Eric’s much signposted speeches – but when a joke is made by men about the repulsiveness of a fat woman and the audience laugh, it does not feel like a critique.
That said, Bouncers remains vastly entertaining. It gets plenty of laughs and the cast are doing fantastic work. The four central actors – Peter McMillan, Lamin Touray, Duncan Riches and Frazer Hammill – are a boyband tight unit, hitting each comic beat with perfection. I will say that Hammill’s speeches occasionally merged together a little, though he gave Lucky Eric empathy that was necessary to tackle the difficult topics contained therein. Otherwise it is impossible to find fault with the Bouncers themselves.
In short, this production is well staged and well-executed. It is comic and immersive from its first moments and throws the audience head-first into a theatrical world. Whether that theatrical world is reflective of 2019’s clubbing landscape, remains to be seen, but the script very rarely fails to get laughs. For me, it seems out of its time, the changes simultaneously felt too much and not to enough. In the post #MeToo world, where toxic masculinity is one of the hot issues of the day, this play needs more of a cultural shift to bring it completely up to date. Regardless, it is a fun night out at the theatre and if you have liked productions of it in the past, you will likely enjoy this update of the text.
Bouncers is playing at the Hull Truck Theatre until 16 February 2019. For more information and tickets, see the Hull Truck Theatre website.