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Updated: Aug 20, 2021

John Godber, in a new version by Maurice Bessman

Boisterous Theatre Company

Royal Court, Liverpool

August 19-Sep 11, 2021; 2hr 15min

The cast of Bouncers. All pics: Ean Flanders

Back in the day, club doormen – as they liked to describe their professional calling – were still largely regarded as feral creatures, though as a gesture to civilisation they traditionally decked themselves out in tuxedos and dickie bows and reeked of Brut aftershave.

In 1977, when John Godber produced the first draft of Bouncers – by then the accepted terminology for these walls of brawn licensed to detain, as well as eject, troublesome revellers frequenting nocturnal habitats – club-going had reached new and exotic heights.

Folk dug deep into their pockets, despite inflation "falling" to 15 per cent, to dance the night away beneath plastic palms, to the music of Wings, David Soul and Abba. Fertile ground for the prototype of what was to become Godber’s trademark comedic, interactive, multi-role and highly physical new people’s theatre: bouncers were ideal subjects, with their arm-up-the-back antics occasionally leading to full fisticuffs.

But the idea that these testosterone-driven hunks might be able to develop individual personalities and function as social commentators provided an extra dimension.

All very well. But that was more than 40 years ago, and while nostalgia remains key to contentment, it can lose relevance. Which is why Bouncers cried out for an objective update, provided here by writer Maurice Bessman and the Liverpool-based Boisterous Theatre Company, set up to foster more culturally-diverse talent in the city.

Godber’s skeletal structure remains, but is clothed in new language and shifting social attitudes: for instance, much talk of transgender preferences, and the shifting of physical sexuality is a matter of course.

The production achieves a calibre of slickness that can turn on a pinhead, with some wonderful cameos as the four-strong cast – Mutty Burman, Michael Horsley, Zain Salim and Joe Speare – play both male and female roles.

Ironically, because the pace becomes so relentless, there is also the occasional problem of overlaying gags and gestures.

Only an anorak would sit down and compare the original script and Godber’s own subsequent revisions with the latest refresher.

The important thing is that the prime objectives remain in place, and are in many ways enhanced, within a fine showcase of ensemble work.


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