(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 13 March)
The time and place of the action, as we’re told at the start of John Godber’s Bouncers, is the 1980s (the first professional production was in 1983) and a northern urban town.
One reason why this play has held the stage to become its author’s most popular work is that we could be at any time in the late 20th and early 21st centuries – and in any town centre late at night at the weekend. It passes the test of memorable theatre – it has something to say to everyone in whichever theatre they are sitting.
Godber’s new touring production has its four characters start by monitoring the audience and wearing immaculate evening dress. The stage is a square, dominated by the play’s fluorescent title (though we are actually at a disco-club called Mr Cinders).
That square is defined, by a floor-level ring of lights designed by Graham Kirk. The only props are four metal beer casks and the identical glitter clutch-bags carried by the actors when portraying the quarter of girls planning for and then enduring on a night out.
Robert Hudson dominates the cast as Lucky Eric, whose monologues punctuate the action and remind us that we are something more than mere spectators. Chris Hannon is joker-in-the-pack Ralph, Frazer Hammill plays the bull-in-a-china-shop Judd and Adrian Hood is Les, the quiet stirrer.
The jerky rhythmns of Godber’s verse are emphasised by the beat of the music and some extremely nifty footwork. It is a measure of the strength of the play and the subtle arguments it lays before us that the knowing appreciation of teenagers in the Bury St Edmunds audience at the performance I saw was echoed by their elders.
We’ve all been there, done that – in our imaginations if not in real life. The ability to make an audience think and then to come away from a performance perhaps just a little bit wiser then when taking its seata is a rarity. But some plays and some productions pull it off.
Bouncers runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 14 March. it can also be seen at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester from 26 to 28 March.