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Review – Shakers – Liverpool Theatre Festival at St Luke’s Bombed Out Church

Review by Nigel Smith

JOHN Godber’s 1985 comedy Shakers was, at its time, very of its time. A companion piece to its older brother Bouncers, it centres around four waitresses in a trendy cocktail bar, negotiating their way through a typical evening’s service. This revival by RTB productions at Liverpool Theatre Festival is directed by Margaret Connell, who acted in a ‘90s production of the play, and she has made a fair few tweaks and adjustments to the text to give this cocktail of wit and wisdom a contemporary flavour.

The subject matter remains as timely as ever, based on the sad reality that a great many customers, whether through drunken loss of manners, innate boorishness or straightforward snobbery, behave appallingly to the staff in bars, treating them as though they were part of the merchandise or in some way sub-human. “We’re real people too” is as important a message as it ever was, and now that bars and restaurants are having to enforce unwelcome restrictions on customers’ behaviours it’s a good time to reinforce the fact that bar staff, whilst performing a service, have feelings and deserve respect.

They have lives too and sometimes, but not always, aspirations of a different life. The magic of Godber’s writing is that it combines bawdy humour with moments of genuine introspection. The quartet of cocktail Shakers in the eponymous bar exchange conversation as they weave amongst their customers, revealing glimpses of their lives beyond this place of work. The show opens and closes with a chorus that shows us the mask they wear to face the punters. It’s a mask that slips occasionally, letting out little aerosols of venom in the backhand remarks they use to deal with the abuse and impatience of the customers.

Now and then the spotlight falls on one single character. The other three are suspended in time while a soliloquy is delivered, offering us a window into the life behind the smile. Lost dreams, broken promises, secret hopes and fears all spill out in these moments of reflection.

Shakers bar teems with customers. A group of supermarket staff on a hard-earned night out; drunken lads on a pub crawl, ordering cocktails for their comic names; businessmen trying to impress, and a host of other colourful characters. The cast of four, comprising Alice Bunker-Whitney, Danielle McLauren, Isobel Balchin and Jennifer Vaudrey, turn on a heel to bring us all of these, then with another swift movement they are back to sashaying round with imaginary trays of glasses, or plates of seafood pasta that no one seems to have ordered.

It’s fast moving and, thanks to a spirited, vocally agile cast and Connell’s choice of updating many of the references to stores, brands etc., it raises a lot of knowing laughter from the audience.

A welcome and worldly revival of a classic Scouse one-acter.

Liverpool Theatre Festival continues at St Luke’s until Sunday, and you can view the festival brochure here:

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