Over the years, Sudden Impulse Theatre Company have reliably delivered top-quality performances to the Buxton Fringe, and shows like Departure Lounge and The Zoo Story live long in the memory. A combination of their record and a modern English classic promised much – but while the performances are as excellent as expected, the play itself has not aged well.
Bouncers tells the story of a Friday night out in an unnamed working class northern town, primarily seen through the eyes of the bouncers guarding the entrance to the disco. There is a nice opening to the show as the cast line the door of the Arts Centre Studio, welcoming us in typical gruff fashion as we enter the auditorium, and their individual entrances are neat introductions to each character.
The four bouncers also play all the other parts in the show: the lads and lasses on their big night out, a posh rugby club, and other assorted club-goers. The characterisations are sharp, delivered with a gesture, a mannerism or a voice; we get them instantly. Top-quality acting is pretty much guaranteed from Sudden Impulse, so all the parts are played with gusto and are very enjoyable. Rob Hiatt in particular is hilarious, he's got funny bones.
But the thing is, these are all stereotypes. Bouncers was written in 1977, and the attitudes it portrays are perhaps of their time; but I kept waiting for some subversion in the characters or plot, and it never came. For example, the fact that one of the bouncers may be gay – simply that – is played for laughs. I don’t think it’s precious to suggest that being gay is not inherently funny, and it doesn’t sit well with the story in Sudden Impulse's second production, the excellent Vincent River.
In its day Bouncers was well-received as a warts-and-all portrayal of the working class at play, which probably was a rarity at the time. Now, it seems like cliché: we’re not unfamiliar with seeing this subject matter, and shows like Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights have parodied the scene that Bouncers features. The cultural references have been brought bang up to date, which is funny, but also means that the uncomfortable elements can’t be excused as the product of a period piece frozen in time.
But it’s difficult to write this production off. It is an English classic, and moments like Lucky Eric’s (Richard Shields) speeches – where we do get some depth, as he muses on how girls are rushed into growing up too fast – redeem the script to an extent. The physical comedy and the direction by Simon NW Winterman are excellent, and a performance by Sudden Impulse is always worth watching.