‘Bouncers’ was a comedy that was enacted solely by four men dressed throughout in simple black tuxedos, indicating, of course, that they were doormen. These four men played a variety of at least three different characters each- both male and female- and depicted the typical Friday nightlife scene via snapshots of different people and their contrasting perspectives. John Godber, the creator of ‘Bouncers’ originally came from the North of England. He obviously based his play around a setting that he was familiar with, and writes about his own experiences.
The play is a social comment on the life of the uneducated working class in the UK, but has been performed all over the world. We watched the play in Dubai, a city with a cultural background that is quite different from the UK. This was probably why many of the jokes and puns cracked in the course of the play were lost out on the audience. However, I found it commendable that the actors had kept this in mind and had altered parts of the script to include little trivial things like specific venues in the city of Dubai.
For example, ‘going to the Mall of the Emirates’ was mentioned casually at one point. This appealed to the audience since it not only made the play seem more relevant, but it made them feel special since it seemed like it had been engineered specially for them. On first entering the theatre itself, the mood of the play was created. The hall was small and compact with a simple stage and rows of seats that were placed one behind another rather than in levels. The racy 90s dance music that blared from the speakers gave the audience a taster of what they would expect.
Four solemn-looking men greeted us at the door, their smart black tuxedos making it clear that they were bouncers. They sternly told some people off for being so informal as to appear in sneakers… but when the lights dimmed, we were in for a surprise: the bouncers climbed onto stage as the actors themselves! I thought that this was a nice touch to not only warm up the actors so that they fully immersed themselves in the character, but also an excellent way to set the scene and get the audience more involved in the play by giving them a fully rounded theatre experience using invisible theatre techniques as well.
The story centered mainly on the lives of four nightclub bouncers: Les (Matthew Duquenoy), Judd (Jonathan Floyd), Ralph (Simon Watts), and Lucky Eric (John Carter). Of these four, Lucky Eric could perhaps be called the protagonist. He was older and generally more solemn than his three colleagues. As the plot unfolded we discovered that he tended to be as compassionate as the other males described in the story were shameful and disreputable.
Lucky Eric had many monologues throughout the play, and through them he related instances that really convinced us of his character- instances like how angry he would get when he would see young, drunk schoolgirls taken advantage of by the vulgar men who frequented the nightclubs. Eric has quite a tragic past, with a wife who left him to become a sleazy bar girl. He is essentially a lonely man, but tries to hide it under his macho, tough character. The other, younger bouncers also tease him constantly about his body image. The stories of eight people, enjoying a night out, were also depicted- four men and four women.
It was interesting to see their varied range of personality. The girls ranged from the exotic ‘Sexy Suzy’ to the more mundane headache-ridden Elaine. The men also were of varying characters. Through all the fast-paced action, however, the play held a deep underlying message that was not lost out in all the humour. It was a message showing how hopeless and bleak people’s lives could become. What all the characters shared was the feeling of failure, since they felt that the only way they could be successful was to ‘enjoy’ the nightlife.
All the characters were desperate people who went out at night looking for love, mistakenly lost under the illusion that sex was love. What I admired most was the fact that they were completely independent of sets and props. The set was a plain black stage and remained the same throughout, with only two bar stools for aid. Despite this, however, the actors used their space to its full potential. The lack of props did not prevent them from pretending that there were props. In some cases, one of them would casually rest an elbow on the empty air, effectively representing the idea that they were leaning against a non-existent table.
Since the characters played so many roles, they had to be able to switch between them effectively in such a way that the audience would not be confused as to who they were playing. To go about this, the actors exaggerated their characters and made them more physical- using their voice, actions and postures. When they were playing women, the actors minced about stage with their shoulders held back, talking in a high pitch and making use of their space by angling their hands and gesturing in very stereotypically feminine ways.
Sexy Suzy was a perfect example: she made it clear that all the men around her hung on to her every word and struck very feminine poses. It was essential for the characters to be stereotypical if we had to be able to distinguish between the men and the women (since the costumes remained the same). To do this, the actors included little acts which are typically associated with females: when the girls are first shown on stage, they are doing each others’ hair and gossiping wide-eyed about each other. When Rosie loses her boyfriend she wails mournfully in an overly dramatic way.
It is particularly funny to see the girls behaving very sweet to each other’s faces while making snide remarks behind each others’ backs. The women were depicted as shallow, superficial characters. Despite being equipped with only a handbag each for props, it was sometimes almost easy to forget the ‘girls’ were in fact men! It was obviously much easier for the actors to play men, yet it was no easy task to accurately portray their contrasting personalities. However this was done very well. Emphasis and exaggeration was used to their advantage.
I thought that Lucky Eric, in particular, did a great job in displaying to us strong emotions like his pent-up fury. His monologues provided an insight into his innermost thoughts, and were delivered with such power and attack that we could feel what he was feeling. One of his strongest monologues was when he told the story of how angry he had felt when he once saw a group of young men taking advantage of a drunk girl in a bar. Lucky Eric spoke with extreme feeling. “Give me a kiss, they said”, said Lucky Eric about the men in the bar. When explaining this, his tone of voice got loud and full of rage.
But at the end, Lucky Eric explained that after he had sent the men away, he had turned to the girl. “Give me a kiss, she said. ” The line was timely and excellent, using the power of repetition; and Eric used it to its full potential. Having reached the anticlimax of his monologue, his voice became soft and almost wounded, his shoulders hunched and his head hung. The last lines of this monologue were delivered with equal power, in a tone of frustration and sadness: “Go home, I told her. Just-just go home. ” Despite this, I felt that Lucky Eric’s monologues could have been slightly shorter.
I appreciated that the slow tempo of the monologues was meant intentionally to contrast the fast pace of the rest of the play; and that the slow tempo was meant to create a deeper message. However, they were slightly rambling and Eric tended to repeat himself slightly. Perhaps if he had moved around more then his monologues might have been more effective. He tended to stand still in one spot throughout his speech, and alternate between two or three expressions and postures only. The audience’s attention was distracted slightly when these monologues came on.
Judd also did a good job in showing his personality- his immaturity and fickleness was depicted in the way sheer boredom made him eager to get involved in fights. He would constantly try to provoke Lucky Eric, teasing him about something that Eric found very painful: the thought of his wife. In the scene where Eric finally breaks and fights with him, Judd turns morose and resentful. The director planned this scene well, making their fight look realistic by using space well. The audience probably found this scene unexpected but it was effective in illustrating the personalities of the two characters.
Not only was the pitch and tenor of the voice involved in character transition, but accents were also a useful tool in this. At one point, the actors had to play upper-class men, ‘going golfing’. Their accents and their postures changed dramatically: they became more formal, more proper, their voices became deeper and cleaner, and they looked taller as if they were aware of their importance. The audience found these two upper class men very funny because it was so contrasting from the other, more coarse characters.
It was a sort of light break from the plot because it showed, just for an instance, that there were people other than the working class, that the working class depicted only a segment of UK nightlife. Positioning was the other character transition aid. When changing roles, the characters spun around about their feet and landed in a position and posture that was suited to the new role. The bouncers, despite walking around during their speeches, always initially started off in one row with their hands behind their backs and their feet slightly apart (probably to indicate a more masculine posture).
This was a method of showing rather than telling the audience that they were someone different. During monologues, the positioning and the lighting changed. The stage was bathed in a yellowish white light, with a spotlight focused on the key character, who moved forward to occupy the center of the stage. The other characters, meanwhile, moved back and faced their backs to the audience. There was one scene where Les was explaining his travails with a rugby team who came to the bar, and the other three actors played the rugby team on the other corner of the stage while Les talked in a spotlight.
These methods were very effective because they focused attention on one actor, and the audience therefore found it easier to understand his perspective. Lighting was a very important element of the play. To make up for the lack of set, creative lighting was used in certain places to enhance the mood of the moment. In the scene inside the disco there were multicoloured lights flashing through the stage, and for a scene in which they were depicting a pornographic movie, a white strobe light flashed rhythmically; helping not only to create the ‘sleazy’ background, but also to make it clear that the scene was on TV.
Each set of characters was given its own lighting scheme. When the four actors were playing bouncers, the shape projected on the background screen was blue, when they were playing the young men, the shape was green, and when they were playing women it was pink. The colours were carefully chosen to be symbolic of the groups of characters they were representing; for example, pink is generally associated with women and blue is a more masculine colour. The shape that was projected on the screen rremained the same for the most part of the play.
It was a rough contour of a heart, which was again symbolic of the theme of the play. At the end of Act One, the heart was highlighted in red, perhaps to emphasize what the characters were looking for. Music was an element that was used throughout the performance. Light rhythmic instrumentals were used to build up the tempo etc. and sometimes, specific songs were used as part of the comedy. When Rosy found that her boyfriend had been cheating on her, she sobs loudly on stage, and suddenly, the song ‘I will survive’ plays on the speakers with Rosie lip-synching along in a dramatic and hilarious way!
When the bouncers come on stage, deep classical music is played to give a very ‘macho’, manly feel. It is also interesting to note that when Lucky Eric and Judd have a fight, the music that is playing is from the ballet ‘Romeo and Juliet’; it is the song that is played when the rich Capulet is showing off about his wealth. Although the play had a realistic setting and a very genuine message to give, the performance itself did not use naturalistic techniques. Drama techniques like flashbacks, audience asides, monologues, tableaux and freeze-frames were constantly employed throughout the performance.
The lighting was also strong and vibrant, in colours that were perhaps more symbolic than realistic. The costume and make-up were as subtle as the sets and props. The four characters never changed out of their black tuxedos, and if they had had any make-up on it was just so that their faces could be seen clearly against the light. The tuxedos were simple, universal, and made them all look the same. The wonderful thing about ‘Bouncers’ was the fact that it not only had good acting, but also a good script. The language used accurately portrayed the setting, and the conversations held different contrasts.
There were monologues where the tempo of the play needed to be slowed down, but there were rapid interplays of dialogue between characters when they needed to maintain the upbeat rhythm. Much of the script rhymed too. This added to the humour in the play! Some specific scenes were particularly impressive. In some dancing scenes, only the four actors managed to effectively give the impression of being caught in a crowd of people. They pushed, shoved, crawled, and mopped sweat from their brows; everything appropriately exaggerated.
Another scene was a snapshot of a taxi ride, and although there were no props, sets or even parts of the dialogue that suggested that the characters were in a taxi, just their actions made it clear. They swayed, jolted and panted where the taxi was too fast, and even bounced in their seats where necessary. The movie scene was also well depicted. Two of the actors were playing the characters in the TV itself while the other two were watching the scene. The two watching the scene occasionally ‘paused’ the movie by raising an arm- and the TV scene then froze.
When a rewind had to be done, the TV characters enacted all their movements backwards. I thought that this was very effective. What really makes a play successful is using the medium of acting uniquely and effectively. The play should be able to give you a different feeling than if you had read the story in a book, or watched it as a movie. ‘Bouncers’ definitely fulfilled this criterion. The variety of techniques that were used, along with the superb acting skills and the physical actions made us feel that the storyline wasn’t the only important thing in the story; we wouldn’t have felt the same if we had read it in a book.
Similarly, the audience interaction in the beginning of the show, as well as the general atmosphere that had been created, made one feel that it was better to have watched ‘Bouncers’ as a play in a theatre rather than a movie on TV. In conclusion, I was awed by the performance of the actors in ‘Bouncers’ and was impressed by the script and the directions. The play was a source of inspiration to succeed in my own devised dramas!