Greenwich Theatre, until Saturday
I first saw Bouncers in the 1980s. It wasn’t in its first flush of youth even then, but it had a vibrancy and immediacy that really captivated me. I was 20 years younger, of course (the age of most of the people in the audience this time round) and I rolled around with laughter at the antics of the four guys who play all the characters with a combination of mime, verse, straight acting and direct address to the audience. Perhaps I saw myself in those gawky teenagers – full of hormonal imbalance and actually giving a damn what other people thought. It might have been created in the 70s, but for me as an 80s teenager, it spoke to me.
I saw it at least twice and the same hazy, rose-tinted memory that tells me that of course I looked great in those enormous shoulder pads, rolled-up sleeves and bouncing, gigantic hair also remembers Bouncers as the ultimate piece of social comment theatre. A lot to live up to, then…
Perhaps before I go any further I had better assure you – I laughed. A lot. Perhaps not like a drain, as I did back when I was a very young student (though the very young students howled this time round too – perhaps it speaks to them too) but enough to thoroughly enjoy the evening.
I didn’t actually dress in 80s-dayglo or dodgy peg trousers, but a small part of me was transported back to the Decade That Taste Forgot (strange, isn’t it – it was only a couple of years ago that we were describing the 70s thus…)and so, I have to say, was the show.
It’s a problem, I guess, with creating the 30th anniversary tour of any show that was such a hit (it won every award going first time around) but has been largely forgotten since. Hull Truck is a solid company with a superb track record and they must have agonised over what to do with this piece which, although carrying universal themes, is, frankly, of its time.
What to do? To present it as a period piece? A time before all bouncers were called “door staff,” and either have shaved heads – or, heaven forbid, are female, in which case they sport a blond ponytail as their only distinguishing feature from the gents. A time when they wore penguin suits, not body armour; bow ties, not little curly walkie-talkie cables disappearing down the back of gigantic necks and had to do press ups in the gym rather than government-controlled courses in crowd management?
Or to try to update it and lose many of the gags about girl bouncers, gay bouncers and fat people in a haze of political correctness?
The company have made attempts to update the play with references to ipods and Primark, but some of their best gags are now cliches – do girls really dance round their handbags any more? We no longer need to be told outright that something is a piece of ‘social comment.’ And unfortunately the smoking ban in July has rendered several jokes redundant at a stroke.
If Hull Truck was creating this piece today, it would be a totally different animal, but many of the essentials remain the same. People still go to clubs to leer at each other, talk to each other, grope at each other. People still have the same insecurities and frustrations, still drink too much.
So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the bits that work best about the show are the portrayals of the young folk getting ready for their night out – the boys, gauche, optimistic and full of bravado; the girls, gauche, giggling, and ever-so-slightly bitchy. These are broad stereotypes – and always have been, though I suspect that they are a little ‘innocent’ as portrayals of young people today. Their very innocence though, is touching – from the wide-eyed boys, happy just to get a quick feel, to the girls – Sexy Susie who sells herself far short, Plain Elaine (such a shame) who can’t sell herself at all. The insecurity of youth is never far away and the vignettes still largely work.
I was less convinced with the portrayal of the Bouncers themselves. Maybe they are the bit that it’s hard to update without a serious overhaul, but I just didn’t feel the kind of menace that the ones I saw all those years ago. I vaguely remember that the guys I saw never looked at each other, never showed any emotion at all – not even Lucky Eric in his ‘emotional’ speeches, which I found chilling indeed, and a great contrast to the young people. These bouncers were much more cuddly – human, even. I wasn’t scared of them. Presumably I wasn’t supposed to be.
Ultimately, however, as a vision of British Youth, this still works. The details may have blurred over the years; the increased violence of today skimmed over – the world portrayed here has no mention of drugs, knives or guns – but the insecurities of being a teenager who hasn’t yet found their place in society are still painfully accurate.
Go. Laugh at the fart gags. And remember a time when the ultimate expression of rebellion was to chuck up in the municipal flowerbed.