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FAST, TIGHT PERFORMANCE OF NASTY, FUNNY PLAY

Print Version

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2011
Bouncers
Written by John Godber
Directed by Nick Wilkinson
Cartel Theatre Company

at Victorian Garden Conservatory, Hamilton gardens, Hamilton
From 28 Feb 2011 to 2 Mar 2011

Reviewed by Gail Pittaway, 2 Mar 2011


John Godber's quartet for four actors in the guise of Bouncers at a northern English night club certainly rocks the hanging baskets in its staid Victorian Conservatory venue. Even the resident roof rat was too afraid to show its face after Judd, the mouthiest of the four, alluded to what sexual act he might consider performing on a rat if it crossed his path.

One of the best known and most often performed of Godber's plays or adaptations, it's easy to understand its sustained popularity. Portable, with minimal set but with good actors and a proper technician, it can take the audience on a ride of energy and adrenaline, with glimpses of seedy pick –ups, desperate dollies and totalled tosspots interspersed with tongue in cheek social commentary. He uses almost Brechtian techniques of characters narrating their own actions, while referring to themselves in the third person.

Revealing some of the realities of nights standing out in the cold and dealing with the dregs of night life, the four bouncers each take on many parts – as punters, punks, hairdressers, losers, boys, and girls, barely legal, hardly dressed – in a whirl of interactions all leading to one night out at the club.

There's preparation – at the hairdressers the girls planning their night – then Bouncers running through the routine while a bunch of workmen josh each other into the mood. There's hope that each will get lucky and pull, score even grope someone tonight. There's drinking – endless rounds of it – much shouting, dancing and music. Then there's vomiting, bad breath, toilets and eating, sometimes combined with sex or sex combined with any of the above. It's not pretty but it has a desperate sense of honesty, vigour and comedy.

Cartel Theatre – comprising four well known Waikato performers, particularly of music theatre – has created a winning production here. It's very funny, pacy and slick and though not all perfectly rendering the accents, they deliver the highly detailed and demanding script with great assurance.

David Artis as Lucky Eric gets to give several serious speeches about the world of the bouncer. Weary, jaded, especially now that his wife has left him, he struggles to retain his position as leader of the pack. It's a beautiful performance of this character, but equally well matched by Artis' range of other parts and skill with accents – especially the Swedish porn star impression. 

Nick Wilkinson directs the show impressively with fine attention to the many transitions of role, and placement of person to cover the many scenes and personalities without confusion. As Judd he lacks the menace of bulk but makes up for it admirably with sleaziness. 

Falstaff Dowling-Mitchell adds to the confusion and comedy with his core Bouncer role as Les. Desperate for a fight or a grope, he doesn't care which, Les' misunderstandings and observations make him a very funny fall guy. 

Tim Pollock does double shift as Ralph as well as Mike the disgusting disco man, challenging women to bring up matching knickers and bra sets to win nights with him. A groovy dancer, he has the height and scowl to grace the outside of any bar and his handbag toting female character Susie is a classic.

Many scenes are hilarious but the doubled dance act towards the end of the night is a show stopper. Dowling-Mitchell and Artis as boys on the town pick up two of the “leftover” women, played by the other two, and dance in pairs while each reveals their horror of the situation.

In further Brechtian style there's a wry chorus of “social commentary” at opportune moments, and Lucky Eric is given the chance to make four speeches, each sadder than the one before about the nasty, empty world they participate in, where people feel there's nothing else to do. But he goes back to his job each time and at the end, though gloomier than ever, implies that he world of empty drunkenness' won't go away or end.

This is a nasty, funny play with a fast, tight performance. Technical effects of music and lighting are well designed and timed to the night club theme. While the script and show is very clearly set in England in the late eighties, according to our news and television reports, the taste for boozy hedonism is still not out of fashion, so Bouncers may yet be a stable employment option in our cities. 
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