Bouncers, Bath Theatre Royal,

IN the mid 1990s, a survey of the most performed plays in the UK named John Godber as the third most popular playwright behind Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn. By comparison with the Bard of Avon, who still remains unchallenged at the head of affairs, and Alan Ayckbourn, although not quite as popular as he once was still widely produced, John Godber has rather slipped off the radar from those heady days when professional and amateur companies were queuing up to present his plays.

It has been 15 years since one of his plays, Shakers, graced Bath’s Theatre Royal stage, so it was with eager anticipation that the audience greeted Bouncers, a play that first saw the light of day as a two-hander, one of whom was the author, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Expanded to use four actors the play, re-emerged in the early 1980s and proved to be one of the most popular and durable of Godber’s 70 or so plays.

We follow the fortunes of four Bouncers at a provincial discotheque as, world-weary, they arrive for another Saturday night battle with the local ‘lads’ and ‘lassies” determined to have a good beery night out. It is a play very much of the 1980s. Godber is a master of capturing the language (much of it very fruity) and the mindsets of the Yorkshire working class, and giving a rare insight into the more-than-simple minds, hopes and fears of the Bouncers. Just as we discover there are complex personal reasons for the locals to get ‘stoned’ every Saturday night, so we see that these Bouncers are more than thick-headed thugs.

Never afraid of causing offence to anyone with a sensitive nature and narrow-minded in their outlook, Godber’s dialogue, and the actions of his characters, are true reflections of what he saw and shared as a young man. The original script for Bouncers was written when he was 21 years of age. If some of it is crude and coarse, so be it, neither the author or director Jane Thornton [Mrs John Godber] have any intention of pulling any dramatic punches to please any reactionary member of the audience.

Nor are they willing to make any excuses for or water down the fact that reflecting attitudes in 1980s society Bouncers is a decidedly non-PC story full of male dominance, actions and language that depict women as second-class citizens. At the same time it does lift the edge of the blanket more than a little, showing the vulnerabilities that working class men, for all their brash arrogance and bullying, fought so hard to keep hidden just below the surface in order to preserve the illusion of impregnable male dominance.

It is left to just four actors, Frazer Hammill, Nick Figgis, Tom Whittaker and George Reid, to create the four Bouncers, their male and female customers, plus any other stray characters like the cheesy DJ, and with just the addition of picking up a mauve handbag, they do so with a flourish. It is quite remarkable the number of very different characters they create, never allowing one to become muddled with another.

As long as you are not easily offended there is plenty to laugh at in Bouncers. Godber has as good an ear for comedy as he has for realistic dialogue. If you are 50-plus and remember the days of your youth, you will probably pick up more of the references to time and place, and the humour, than can the younger members of the audience. But there is much for that younger element to enjoy and ponder on in this simply, but well staged, production of a play that is firmly entrenched in a period four decades ago. In that respect it’s a good modern recent history lesson, as well as an opportunity to see a play that was one of the hits of that decade.


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