(reviewed at the Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishop’s Stortford on 26 February)
1986 seems a long time ago, nearly three decades in fact. That’s when John Godber’s Bouncers was first staged by the Hull Truck Theatre with which he was then closely associated. Like its companion piece of a year later Shakers about club waitresses, Bouncers concerns four main characters (whose players then take on many roles, including those of the opposite sex).
Anyone who has been in a town centre on a Friday or Saturday night (or watched documentary footage of the phenomenon) will recognise the set-up. Disco clubs attract a constant stream of young people whose entry to the premises is “vetted” by a squad of bouncers. Even if the punters are sober when they arrive, that seldom seems to be the case when they leave.
Phoenix Theatre School has been set up by the Rhodes Arts Complex artistic director Phil Dale. Fut of its senior students – all aiming for a career in the professional theatre – take the stage in Jeanne Stacey’s production, which has been grant-aided by the Jack Petchey Foundation. From their initial audience warm-up routine to the end of the show Daniel Boulton (Eric), Joseph Vaiana (Judd), Drew Gregg (Ralph) and Will Edden (Les) are a whirlwind of focussed activity.
The bouncers establish their personalities then morph into the sketch gallery of those with whom they are going to have to deal as a slow start to a bitterly cold evening suddenly accelerates. There are titivating girls, some pub-crawling lads and a rather more upmarket ruby-club team; all have drunk a great deal more than is good for them, let alone those who will have to clean up their various messes.
Lynch-pin of the action is bouncer Eric, spotlit for his voiced reflections on life and the way young people go about living (and spoiling) it. Boulton does very well in the part with Vaiana also making his mark. Both Gregg and Edden give committed performances; all four revel in the lightning-quick changes of mood and person. Stacey takes it all at a brisk pace with some precise as well as energetic hip-hop choreography and finely co-ordinated speech rhythms, rap-style verse included.
Bouncers also plays at the Harlow Playhouse 18 to 21 March. John Godber’s own theatre company is at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds(12-14 March) and the Mercury Theatre, Colchester (24-28 March) with his new staging of the play.