Monday, October 13, 2014


Reform Theatre Company and Harrogate Theatre at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford

Unpredictable audiences and clever tweaks manage to keep this 30-something show fresh and enjoyable.
The idea is simple – four middle-aged men in black tie [the Bouncers of the title] cast a weary eye over the night-life, and, at the drop of a hat, and without any pretence at disguise, assume the persona of clubber, lad, hairdresser, drunk and toff. It's a tour de force of physical theatre and social comment, and this simple formula has kept the show in the public eye ever since Godber relaunched it for Hull Truck in 1983.
Reform, directed by Keith Hukin, have brought it to the Civic before, six years ago. The audience then was rowdier; this time out the big, philosophical speeches by Lucky Eric [David Walker] are received in pin-drop silence. But the youngsters packing the stalls laugh long and loud at the coarsely bawdy bits [blue movie, urinal line-up], performed with relish and consummate skill; Kivan Dene's turns, including a repulsive DJ, are especially fine.
Simply staged [beer kegs and white handbags the only props] and brilliantly lit, the ensemble work is relaxed but precise, the production carefully paced. The enthusiastic audience will feel they've had a good night out, with food for thought served up alongside the basket meals.

Bouncers, the 80s hit show that spawned Shakers, Stags and Hens and many lesser tributes, is a classic now, up there with Macbeth and Neville's Island on the GCSE syllabus. So the stalls are packed with the “Children of England”, amused at being frisked by the “door staff”, bemused at this warts-and-all version of an “80s Urban Night”.
It's a different world, and not only because, despite the cheeky name-checks, it's set somewhere north of Watford. The bus ride into town, the basket meals, the barber's shop with its Vinnie Jones cut, the girls with their white handbags, even the video shop and the blue movie, all now extinct. The bouncers themselves seem like dinosaurs, their gorilla arms brushing the ground, innocent of multi-cultural Britain and diversity training.
The quartet from Reform do a brilliant job – the trademark physical theatre is text-book stuff [let's hope the students were taking notes] and they move in a moment from the coarsest comedy to the deepest introspection.
All human life is, inevitably, here.” And all magicked up by these versatile middle-aged men: the boys – lad culture avant la lettre – and the girls with their ritual preparations for a Friday night chez Mr Cinders. Pre-loading not yet invented, they check their make-up and their breath before catching “the bus at the end of our street” and queuing to get past the seen-it-all-before, turn-a-blind-eye bouncers.
Excellent, and impressively energetic, ensemble work throughout, with a few stand-out turns: the demon barber [Lee Bainbridge], pathetic little birthday girl Rosie [director Keith Hukin], and the creepy DJ [Kivan Dene], now undoubtedly awaiting Yewtree trial on historic charges …
David Walker plays Lucky “The King is Dead” Eric, by far the most interesting of the bouncers, with his Brechtian soliloquies beautifully done, as he casts a jaundiced eye over the exploitation, the loss of innocence - “the firedoors tell their secret stories” - and, Lonesome Tonight, weeps to see his ex-wife at the over-25s disco.
Undeniably popular with the kids, the sequence in the gents, and the Swedish Postman porn, seem excessive [and both feature the same offensive weapon], the Michael Jackson moment merely self-indulgent.
That apart, Reform's Bouncers remains the yardstick touring production, a screamingly funny satire, tinged with tragedy. At the end, the lads queue, unfulfilled, for a taxi home, and the bouncers are left to wonder why, staring out over the city lights and envying the everyday, ordinary lives behind the towerblock windows.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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