John Godber
New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Production photo

Most plays that are 30 years old are probably beginning to show their age. The fashions of the era now seem as inappropriate as punk rock music in a dance hall. Yet there's one play that's as fresh now as when it was first written: Bouncers, John Godber's sharp observation of life on Friday and Saturday nights in a disco in a typical British town.

Listed by the National Theatre as one of the top plays of the 20th century, Bouncers retains its popularity because it looks at the different stances taken by men and women to attract the opposite sex. Godber wrote it as a therapeutic antidote to his own problem of being a wallflower at discos and failing to gain girls' attention.

Today's binge-drinking culture means Bouncers is just as relevant if not more so than when it was written. But that's not the only reason for its success.

Godber probably didn't realise when he first put pen to paper that the script can so easily be updated. So instead of flares, mirror balls and teenybop music when the play was first performed, it now contains references to Wii Fits, happy slapping and The Weakest Link. The death of Michael Jackson also brings fresh meaning to a scene featuring zombies dancing to Thriller.

Additionally, directors will always want to add their own individual touches to a Bouncers production. Mark Babych, former artistic director of the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, reckons the New Vic is one of his favourite theatre spaces in the UK and he's done a pretty good job of making full use of the theatre-in-the-round's individuality.

His four actors emerge to the theme tune from The Apprentice before turning back to back to deliver the first few bars of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. It's an impressive start.

Later there's a regional touch, with jingles and inane talk from DJ Steve Shite on made-up station Radio Biddulph. And at the start of the second half some members of the audience are roped in for an impromptu conga.

There's a danger when watching Bouncers that you can overlook how slick the production is. In Babych's show the four actors switch effortlessly from nightclub bouncers to young men on the lash to women out for a good time.

This is the third time I've sat through Bouncers. An after-hours nightclub screening of a blue movie, with the actors performing the scene backwards as the film rewinds, is good although I've seen it done better.

Angus Brown, Phil Corbitt, Andy Hockley and Phil Rowson revel in their parts and on press night they received a rapturous ovation, especially from the younger members of the audience studying the play as part of their GCSE and A-level syllabuses.

However, I didn't feel they were totally convincing as women. Plain Elaine, for instance, seems too aggressive and doesn't elicit sympathy for not being able to attract a bloke while Susan is more a ladette than a sexy siren.

But other scenes, including four lads full of booze and curry passing wind in the toilets, are tremendously funny.

Four times during the evening veteran bouncer Lucky Eric philosophises about the meaning of life and Bouncers momentarily takes on a serious note which you might not expect. But it doesn't last long, especially when the action returns to the dance floor with classic lines such as "you don't sweat much for a fat lass, do you?"

Overall Babych's production has plenty of muscle and on the evidence of the first night's attendance he won't have to use strong-arm tactics to get people through the doors.

"Bouncers" runs until November 14th

Reviewer: Steve Orme

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