Dudley Little Theatre (DLT) are in their 62nd year of performing, and this production, one of four a year they stage, was a shrewd choice.
Written by John Godber in 1977, it has been subject to a number of revisions. Godber is now claimed to be the third most performed English playwright after Shakespeare and Ayckbourn, a tribute both to the quality of his writing, and his popularity. This production incorporated the companion piece Shakers, co-written with his wife Jane, as the first Act, with Bouncers presented as Act Two.
In both pieces the four women, and four men, respectively, assume multiple roles, accents, and the opposite gender to tell their stories, but Shakers is more than “Bouncers for Girls” and serves both as a convincing stand- alone story, and effective counterpoint to its older brother. They also utilise the effective dramatic device of opening and closing their stories as an ensemble, speaking in rhyming verse, frequently addressing the audience directly in Brechtian style.
Shakers itself is a late 80’s trendy cocktail brasserie, providing a platform for the four waitresses to tell their story, arriving onstage to the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”, apt for both the time and the opening line. The recreation of the era, and place, is painfully accurate. Bored floor staff struggle to complete their shift as awkward, lewd, aloof, groping, rude customers impede the smooth running of their evening. The cross-gender characterisations are dramatically even more effective for the women, than the men. For the men, seeing big burly bouncers affect feminine mores is comic in itself, sometimes impeding the message in the script. For the women, physically, this is less so, particularly as producer Lyndsey Parker has them androgynously dressed in trousers, waistcoats and flats. Julie Bywater, as Carol, captured male mannerisms particularly well.
Bouncers is set inside and outside Mr Cinders nightclub. My recollection is that every town had one, offering belligerent doormen, desperate males, indifferent women, and disgusting toilets. Comedians Hale & Pace had huge success with a routine involving doormen, and the script anticipates their interpretation, as the Inbetweeners television series echoes the base coarse reality of men behaving badly on a night out. John Lucock’s Lucky Eric is the pick of the bunch, ageing, careworn, philosophical, but ready to rumble at a moment’s notice. The scene where the bouncers, as women, dance around their handbags is a hoot, but the dramatic tension is sustained by the premise of those wanting a good time versus those stopping them.
If you remember Dragonara Casinos, Chelsea Girl, C&A and chicken in a basket, you will wallow in the nostalgia which this production faithfully, and lovingly recreates. The dialogue is funny, authentic, quick fire and poignant, relying for its appeal on the gritty, amusing realities of a night out clubbing delivered by a strong cast supported by a sympathetic period soundtrack and a simple but effective stage set from Fred Waller. I do hope that as the run continues audiences will grow for this excellent production.
Bouncers and Shakers runs until Saturday 12th March. Come and see this production- if the door staff will let you in.
This review first appeared in Behind the Arras, abridged, where a comprehensive collection of reviews from the best of Midlands Theatre, from a range of reviewers, is available.