Review – Bouncers – Royal Court Liverpool

JOHN Godber’s 1977 comedy Bouncers is not so much a play as an institution. Not only one of his earliest stage works it’s also the most popular and frequently performed, and has been given a few tweaks through its performance history to keep it fresh. It’s a risky move to try and improve on a classic, so fans may well have raised an eyebrow when writer Maurice Bessman and director Miriam Mussa decided to create a new version of the work in 2018 as a vehicle for their new company, Boisterous.

This ‘Urban Remix’ appears here for the third time at the Royal Court, having previously played on both the studio and main stages, but there’s a reason that it is fast becoming as much of a favourite as the original on which it is based.

Four reasons in fact – Mutty Burman, Michael Horsley, Joe Speare and Zain Salim.

Bessman’s scene by scene reinvention of Godber’s extraordinary play-without-a-plot still draws all its appeal from the skill of a tightly knit four-piece ensemble cast, and their ability to switch in an instant from playing the door supervising bouncers of the title to a host of other characters. The difference here is that it’s not just the versatility of their acting that’s on show. These guys have got some serious moves, and the sheer physicality of their performance lifts the show to another level.

The rapport within the cast is clear to see, and the obvious chemistry between them brings a polish to each successive slick routine. From the moment they put their hands up and swing into a rendition of ‘Single Ladies’ the style of the production is set. This is very funny stuff and, while there may be little in the way of a story, the comedy – both physical and vocal – is completely captivating.

While the show is fuelled by music and movement, it still manages to nod to Godber’s gritty social commentary as it goes along, with some sharp and occasionally barbed references to changes in social conventions. In particular it takes a sideways look at the shifting landscape of semantics and the ever-evolving language that is considered appropriate for us to describe each other and ourselves.

The addition of so much music and dance fills the play out in duration as well as texture and, especially in the first act, this can occasionally make it feel over-long. As there is no linear flow of narrative, there are opportunities for a little trimming here and there to rack up the pace.

This said, the second act develops in structure so that when the final dance routine arrives it feels as though the piece has come satisfyingly full circle. And it is in these closing minutes that the outstanding cast, with no more dramatic delivery to consider, really let themselves go.

This is a Bouncers for a new generation that still manages to deliver for fans of the original, which is quite an achievement. The production runs at the Royal Court until 11th September. The theatre is now back at full capacity seating in the stalls, with socially distanced seating available in the Circle for those who prefer it.

Rating – Four stars

Review by Nigel Smith