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REVIEW - Grab yourself a ticket to see Bouncers. If your name's not down, you're not coming in!


On Tuesday, we went to the Octagon Theatre, Bolton to see Bouncers. Read what our reviewer Karen Ryder had to say about John Godber's incredible play...

In my world, when a John Godber play is in town, you rearrange your diary to make sure you see it!  Even if you’ve seen it before!  Bouncers is probably one of Godber’s most popular plays over the years, and with it appearing on drama syllabuses and being performed across the globe, it is no surprise that it attracts audiences of all ages.  Tonight was no exception and the place was alive with a genuine excitement and anticipation.  John Godber is one of the most performed writers in the English language, and with an Olivier award winning play and 7 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards to his name, the palpable energy at the Octagon Theatre Bolton tonight was entirely justified.

So sit back and let Les, Ralph, Lucky Eric and Judd take you through the delights of their world.  These Bouncers have seen it all, and they aren’t afraid to spill the beans.  Spun around one evening and early morning at Mr. Cinders nightclub, nothing is off limits as our Bouncers guide us through their evening and a whole host of enlightening characters along the way.  The rowdy lads, the gaggle of gals, the cringey DJ, the toilet trips, the hooking up, scrambling for a taxi – it’s all there waiting to be relived without the threat of waking up to a hangover!  Be prepared to possibly see a few home truths too as to how our liquored up selves presents without the beer goggles on a typical night out in a club.  Set in the 80’s, music plays a huge part in this show and will have your feel good factor notched up to party!  Respectable, Never Gonna Give You Up, Celebrate Good Times, I think We’re Alone Now, the 80’s are alive and kicking before, during, and after the show, and with the night rounded off in the 80’s fashion of New York New York, you’ll be high kicking your way out of the club all the way home.  You’ve got to get in first though, and make no mistake, Les, Ralph, Lucky Eric and Judd enjoy the power bestowed upon them, and they might just be more interested in kicking your head in than letting you party.

Graham Kirk
has the tough job of designing the set, tough because a John Godber play is known for its stripped back approach, allowing imagination and storytelling to do the work rather trying to recreate lavish scenery and spell everything out for us.  So how do you design a set when you can’t have a set?  Kirk has somehow managed to achieve the brief with blinding brilliance.    A nod to a club exterior with a neon sign and glittering fringing deliciously dangling from the doorway is all it takes to allow our imagination to do the rest.  Beer barrels confirm what we think we know and give our subconscious enough information to fill in the blanks with our own experiences of night life, creating a far bigger and more detailed world in our minds than any set ever could.  The audience are trusted to think for themselves, and it is fabulous.  It also thrusts the actors further into the spotlight because they have to create something out of nothing and trust that we are willing and able to go on that journey with them.  In Godber’s world, a beer keg can become a seat at the hair salon as the girls get ready for a night on the town, a taxi ride home, or a DJ booth.  And why use additional props when you can mime using hairspray and make the noise for yourself?  We all know exactly what is going on, and its weirdly exciting because its more fun, its daft, and its so easy to recreate and show that theatre doesn’t have to be about quite literally pointing everything out to us.  These mimes and noises created by this epic fab four are such a core part of the show and have the audience in stitches.  From the click clack of high heels, to farting mates in the loo’s, or the ding dong of a shop door, the cast recreate with such hilarity and ease that not only do you not miss the absence of props, you relish it!  For this becomes such a key feature, you anticipate how or what they’re going to recreate next!  

Lynette Linton’s
choreography embodies elements of the 80’s that we all know and love, and uses it to give life to characters with comical flare.  From the girls dancing round their handbags, to the subtle head bopping of the boys that gradually builds into manic freedom as the alcohol takes hold.  It is truly funny, instantly recognisable, and brilliantly timed.  Directed by co-director of the John Godber Company, Jane Thornton, this production was as fresh as the day it was written.  Fantastically quick, pulsing with energy, pausing for effect, subtle with its serious tones, eye wateringly funny, and with a cast tighter than sexy Suzy’s clothes, it was Bouncers at its finest.  Frazer Hammill, Nick Figgis, George Reid, and Tom Whittaker are an outstanding team, and quite simply do not miss a beat.  They are so versatile and will blow your mind with how quick they transpose between their various characters.  They outstand with their ability to not only multi role, but to switch so effortlessly and at such speed right in front of our eyes.  They hide nothing as we physically see them alter, hear their voices change, and witness character after character being born.  It is a fabulous way to present theatre, and a real test of talent for the performers, who all smashed it.  They magic up props and set through the power of suggestion, and it is phenomenal to witness. 

Frazer Hammill brings us the conflicted Lucky Eric, our local philosopher and observer of life who also seems on the verge of a violent breakdown.  He can flip on a wrong word being spoken, and shows a powerful menace bubbling away under the surface.  His “Lucy Eric speeches” show us an entirely different side to him, truly making you think.  Through his range of characters he shows us powerful, menacing, caring, thoughtful, daft, giggly and wildly hilarious.  What a performer.  Judd is the joker, played by Nick Figgis.  Joker or not, he equally takes great pleasure in ribbing Lucky Eric and winding him up.  Another gym worshipper, he is in constant alpha mode with Lucky Eric as to who the leader is, though he is more in control of his menace.  He also plays the bubbly hairdresser Cheryl, Elaine and Terry.  Again, we are treated to such a wide range of skills and he fabulously shows off just how tough women can be too, he gives us daft, leery, unpredictable, and aggressively provoking.  The range is outstanding.  George Reid’s Les is all about the peace when it comes to dispelling fights between Judd and Lucky Eric, but not so much when it comes to the punters, who he is gagging to give a good kicking.  His self control is somewhat lacking. He also plays Rosie who is out for her 21st, and punk rocker Kev who is turfed away from the club.  Yet he still manages to show us understanding through his views on sexuality, he gives us the girliest girl ever, fun, laid back, tough, rough and ready with phenomenal ease. Tom Whittaker brings us Ralph.  Maybe it’s Ralphs Judo training, but he seems calmer than the others, more in control of his aggression, and the least unflappable of the four.  But that doesn’t mean he is one to back down from a fight…….until Lucky Eric says ‘boo’, then he knows who he is and takes the banter with a light hearted nature.  He also plays sexy Suzy, the DJ, and punk rocker Ashley, showcasing a spectacular range from gobby, to sleezy, highly intoxicated, chilled, a whole range of accents, and everything in between.  It is pure class.

The entire show is made up of ‘moments’ that could all be your favourite!  From the girls dancing round their handbags in the nightclub, the reenactment of the Bouncers watching a blue movie, complete with the rewind button being pressed, the lads in the toilets reading the graffiti, the moment your favourite tune kicks in and you all start singing along only to realise you only know half of the words, the wait in the taxi rank at daft O’ clock in the morning, to the last dance in the club where anyone will do!  The mix of monologues that really hit home, storytelling, presenting, and the ever shifting dynamics of real people makes Bouncers so universal.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the 80’s, 90’s Yorkshire, Manchester or New York!  The play is about real working-class people and is written with such truth, observation, and is so side splittingly real, that I can’t envisage a time when it won’t have a dedicated audience.  It’s a play that is being passed down through generations of theatre lovers everywhere, for it is about people.  Real, flawed, vulnerable, witty, kind, vile, complex and simple people.  It tackles real life in a rough and ready, yet loving way and holds its head high in its honesty.  It speaks to its audience and with its audience, never at them, so we are able to comfortably coexist with the actors, characters and the whole team in this familiar world that we can both love and question at the same time.  It presents us with the highs, the lows, and the down right ludicrous events of a group of people who live for the weekend.  Using humour to make some unpalatable points, you will not be short of laughs, recognitions, passion, nostalgia, and awe at this ground breaking, trend setting play.  In a time when opportunity was a fantasy, living it large in the clubs of a weekend was a matter of surviving the week to come.  We may not be donning bubble perms and wearing leg warmers anymore, but there is a definite recognition in many of the agendas raised in this play set in the 80’s.  Bouncers has not lost its touch, and I have no fear that it ever will.  But grab yourself a ticket quickly because as we all know, if your name's not down, you’re not coming in!  


Bouncers is on at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton until Saturday 20th April 2024.

Watch our "In Conversation with John Godber" video discussing this production


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