Making the transition from the much-performed and critically acclaimed John Godber original is Bouncers, an updated take written by Maurice Bessman for the Royal Court and brought kicking and punching into a very modern Liverpool.
Bessman’s Bouncers – the first production of Boisterous, a rare ‘diverse theatre company’ in the playwright’s words – is brought up to date with so many modern references it’s as if the Find And Replace function has been employed to excise the 80s references in Godber’s script with their 2021 equivalent.
So a mucky video becomes online porn; taxis become Ubers and the grimy discotheque atmosphere become a Bruno Mars bar. It’s still a play about nighttime conversations about beer and sex, notes Bessman, but even the beers are different. And don’t get the four titular doormen started on pink gin…
The modern references aren’t all throwaway. The four bouncers engage in a slightly bemused discussion about the lexicon of the LGBT community the audience greets with recognition. But it never feels sneery or judgmental and while it might not have needed saying, the similarities between discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and discrimination on the grounds of race are acknowledged by a cast that might be described as black, mixed-race or BAME depending on your outlook.
Where Bouncers has really had a kick up the arse is in the movement of the four men on stage, variously inhabiting a gaggle of girls, a group of lads and whatever the collective noun for doormen is. All four roles are performed with a physicality unthinkable in some previous productions, including the Royal Court’s last staging in 2014.
As ever it’s the tarty Suzy, played with absolutely commitment by Zain Salim, who steals the show, but Joe Speare’s Lucky Eric anchors the show’s moral centre and means Bouncers doesn’t get stuck in vulgarity and camp.
As ever it’s the tarty Suzy, played with absolutely commitment by Zain Salim, who steals the show, but Joe Speare’s Lucky Eric anchors the show’s moral centre and means Bouncers doesn’t get stuck in vulgarity and camp. Unimpressed by macho behaviour, disgusted by porn and sleaze, Eric soaks up everything Liverpool’s nightlife can throw at him and dispenses carefully-formed morsels of world-weary wisdom.
A little of this has been lost in translation from the original; in its place more knockabout shenanigans, which may disappoint some but certainly don’t displease a Royal Court audience determined to whoop it up. A scene from an archetypal Scandinavian porn film – complete with a skipping DVD rendering it grotesquely unwatchable – is a comic highlight, while slo-mo fight scenes and energetic dance numbers show off the work of Salim as Movement Director. Mutty Burman and Michael Horsley round out the bulletproof cast, while Spykatcha keeps the music going from a DJ box at the back of the simple set.
For the four actors on stage, shape-shifting through 20 parts – male and female, singing, dancing and fighting throughout – it must be exhausting but is also clearly exhilarating: a breakneck performance that must give every theatrical muscle a workout. The local foursome do not miss a beat and director Miriam Mussa keeps the energy at anarchic – and often scatalogical- full throttle.
The insistent soundtrack occasionally gets in the way and the song-and-dance routines can feel shoehorned, but Bessman and Miriam Mussa’s update of Bouncers offers a recognisable, relatable and riotous night on the Liverpool tiles. Just don’t wear trainers.
Royal Court Liverpool
Until 11 September
Images by Ean Flanders Photography