Written by John Godber, originally for an english audience in the late 70’s and rewritten throughout the 80’s, Bouncers is an observational comedy that slips up against the Queensland club scene like a hand into a too tight glove.
Transplanted into an Australian culture, the geographic references hit home and even draw a few knowing smiles, but some of the idioms, and the cadence in the language is so strongly English that it rubbed and chaffed a little as the production unwound.
Directed by David Paterson and Sherri Smith the work is intensely physical, and the four men in the cast play a dizzying array of nightclubbers, friends, family, dj’s, husbands, lovers, and all viewed through the fraught and complex gaze of the bouncers.
Paterson and Smith used the small space, deep in the caverns of the Spring Hill Reservoir as an almost immersive experience for the audience. Loud music, a stamp on your hand on entry, get lost in the lights and the labyrinthine space inside the reservoir. Watch the relationships unfold as the music blasts and everything moves at an energy level that is best described as a 15 out of 10 (sometimes it is uncomfortably high for uncomfortably long – but then clubbing can be like that too). It is like being swallowed into another world, it’s in your face theatre, and it prompts the type of conversations that I think we should be having a lot more of. About drinking, party culture, consent, lock out laws, violence, and mental health.
Our four bouncers are played with remarkable commitment by Chris Vagg, Campbell Lindsey, Peter Condon, and Rowan Howard. They bounce between characters seemingly effortlessly, and each give noteworthy, high octane performances. One of the beautiful things about the script, is that it will flip on a nail head between an almost absurdist dance party, to a stillness held forth by the dark musings of bouncer “Lucky Eric” (Condon), giving the piece a moment of almost Shakespearean introspection, before returning again to the darkness and swirling, frantic lights.
Bouncers raised a lot of questions about the nature of theatre for me, and its place in society. In the era of the MeToo movement is it hilarious , for example, to stage a couple engaging in drunken sex behind a nightclub? It is certainly played for laughs in the context of the work, but that raises some immediate questions Is it funny that the “woman” in the scenario is so disengaged and desensitised by the sexual encounter that she sees pizza on the floor of the alley and eats it? No. Perhaps it never was funny, even in the 80’s in the UK. It certainly has a shocking in-your-face factor, and there were a lot of moments of the show that felt the same for me. Exposed and confrontational, and I wonder if that was not the point all along.
We often talk about adjusting theatre for our modern age, and the context of the society that it will be presented in. But what do we lose by making those adjustments? Do we lose valuable conversations? Do we, as a society, lose something significant if we put those works back on the shelf rather than viewing them as a product of their time, and then have the discussions around them that still need to be had?
Undoubtedly this is a question that cannot be resolved by a single review of a single show. But it is an important question to be asking, and this production by HeartBeast made me ask this, and many more.
This darkly, satirically funny, confrontational and timely revival is a must-see piece of theatre. It’s rapid fire comedic delivery, deft slapstick interludes and surprisingly tender, heartfelt moments of comradeship and togetherness make for a wonderful night at the theatre, and is sure to stay with you long after you’ve left the Reservoir behind. The season runs until 31st of March 2018 at the Spring Hill Reservoir, and you can get tickets at www.heartbeast.com.au