The Studio, Edinburgh – until 20 May 2017
Crisp in its delivery and twisting in its purpose, Leitheatre’s production of John Godber’s Bouncers hits many of its marks in a strong production at the Festival Theatre Studio. Set in the shadowy portals of a dubious nightclub, four bouncers stand and ponder the punters and the passing of their lives. They brag and argue with each other, playing games with the lads, looking for excuses to unleash their inner violence.
Into this abstract detail of miss-spent youth, Godber places the punters themselves. Suddenly, the four straight-laced, dinner-jacketed men become young hairdressers, primping up the perms for their big night out ahead. Add a bright red handbag and they are on the disco floor. Add a lear and a slap of aftershave and they are lads, trying to look old enough to be drinking, elbowing at the bar, downing the pints.
It’s a brilliant, inventive and perceptive deconstruction of the Saturday night out. Originally performed at the Fringe in 1977 as a two hander it first appeared as a four-hander in the early Eighties. But this is the nineties remix, reworked again from its Yorkshire origins so that it has a solid Edinburgh feel to it.
The punters’ accents are Edinburgh (although one of the bouncers has a London voice), the club is Buster Browns and the geographical references will be well known to those who ever went out on the pull of a Saturday night in Edinburgh Town. The Waverley, the Cowgate and the Grassmarket are all present and used correctly.
But it is not just the geography of the town which is familiar, it is the anticipation, the drinking, the desperation and the drunken aftermath of the night out which will be recognised by all.
And it is hilarious. Director Matt Mason has drilled his cast to choreographed perfection to make the most of a script that dodges from one place to the next. The timing of those moves between scenes is precise. The physical observations of each place – there is little or no set – is brand new. Whether it is mincing around those handbags, washing hair in the hairdressers or standing at the urinal next to your mates, all are exactly observed.
In terms of comedy, Callum Thomson stands out, lanky and loud-mouthed as the bouncer Judd, constantly at odds with main bouncer Lucky Eric. Thomson’s physicality comes into his own when the girls are being portrayed. With big rolling eyes he makes the most of every innuendo in the script, and when the bouncers relate the story of watching a blue movie, his depiction of a girl taking a shower is hilarious.
Tim Foley’s Les is the London bouncer with a knowing sneer and a yen for ultra-violence. But it is his depiction of Rose, the hairdresser whose birthday the young women are celebrating which begins to get to the heart of why this is such a success. There is a truth here, as the comedy of the late night disco floor gives way to desperation and desperate liaisons.
There is something quite precise about Calum Verrecchia’s Ralph. It extends to his spot-on depiction of the girls, physicality on observation rather than caricature. But it is when he becomes the sleazy DJ, exhorting and cajoling the girls in the club to part with items of underwear, bribing them with Asti Spumanti into public intimacies, that he is at his best as he creates a monster of excess and abuse.
The real strength of the piece, then, is nothing to do with superficial observational comedy – no matter how funny that is and how much it ensures that the production goes with a zing. It stems from the truth of what is being shown.
And at the centre of that truth is Alan Richardson’s Lucky Eric, with his four big monologues – flagged up as such by the rest of the cast. Richardson doesn’t quite hit the bored aggression of his character, indeed none of them quite convince on that direction, but when it comes to voicing his regret, his observations on the groping and the fiddling, the inconsequential, atavistic car-park humping that passes for sex, then this shows its true colours.
There is not much set to create, so it the sound design of the production is slightly disappointing – maybe the tinny volume is supposed to represent the cheap, underpowered speakers of the disco, but it feels as if Stephen Hajducki has spent more time on his excellent lighting design. The choices of the soundtrack are, however, absolutely correct,
A strong, entertaining night out, which provides plenty of laughs but which underpins them with some pretty raw truth.