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Bouncers

John Godber
Hull Truck
Buxton Opera House and touring
(2007)

Publicity photo

The National Theatre voted it one of the greatest plays of the 20th century. Bouncers has been staged all over the world to great success - except in Paris where the French don't understand the concept of getting drunk and making fools of themselves.

There is at least one amateur production of Bouncers being performed somewhere in the world each week of the year.

Now, thirty years after John Godber bashed out the script on a small typewriter at his mother's house before taking part in the first performance of the play at the Edinburgh Fringe, he's directing the anniversary tour of his seminal work.

Bouncers follows the fortunes of four bouncers, four guys on the lash, four girls out for a good time and other characters they meet along the way on a typical Friday night in a typically average town.

Four actors play all the parts, alternating from one to the other with only a handbag or a gesture to differentiate between them.

The play works and has been successful for so long because everyone watching it is likely to see themselves mirrored in at least one of the characters and can empathise with the situations played out gloriously on the stage.

Criticisms anyone may make about there being no depth of characterisation are valid - but the 30th anniversary tour is a time for a celebration of Godber's talents, and this version must be one of the best there's ever been.

The author hasn't simply relied on past accolades - he's updated Bouncers from the '70s version with flares, mirror balls and teenybop music to the world of mobile phones, ipods, The Weakest Link, Chris Moyles, Primark tops and I Predict A Riot. But the Bouncers remix, as it's been dubbed, still produces in vivid colour a "vision of British urban nightlife".

This touring version is performed by Hull Truck Theatre, the company the playwright has taken charge of for the past 23 years. Godber uses four actors all with experience of the Hull Truck mission of pursuing excellence as well as developing and retaining new audiences.

They are strong both individually and collectively. James Hornsby excellently reprises the role of Lucky Eric who in four solo speeches passes comment about the deterioration of society; Jack Brady impresses as Judd and Plain Elaine who never gets a bloke; Marc Bolton, solid as Ralph, revels in taking Sexy Suzy to extremes; and Matthew Booth is dependable as both Les and birthday girl Rosemary.

The opening of the new Bouncers goes on for too long as each nightclub security operator walks out slowly and stands menacingly on the stage. But as soon as the chants of "Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go" start up, the laughs come faster than it takes for a bouncer to throw out an unruly customer.

The real highlights for me are the four lads full of booze and a curry having an hysterical spell of flatulence in the toilets; and an after-hours nightclub screening of a blue movie with restrained use of strobe lighting which ends with the actors cleverly performing the scene backwards as the film rewinds.

In these days of binge-drinking and anti-social behaviour, Bouncers is probably even more pertinent than when it was written. The message about how unimportant things in life can become significant may be lost somewhere in the story - but you'll come out of the theatre with a bounce in your step after one of the funniest nights you'll ever experience.

"Bouncers" tours until December 1st

Reviewer: Steve Orme