Thursday, April 04, 2019

Bouncers – can you get past the doormen to enter The MAC’s Luminaire Club (Big Telly until 20 April)

Four tuxedoed bouncers exchange hollow banter and barbs as they stand in the freezing cold street outside the Luminaire Club. They met some of The MAC’s punters coming in through the venue’s door. Now they’re weeding out the stag parties, dodging the boking drunks and stepping over discarded condoms while waiting for the small hand on the clock to reach two and their time to escape into a world of porn and loneliness.

The perfect integration between Ciaran Bagnall and Diana Ennis’ arched set, Garth McConaghie’s zoned soundscape, Sarah Jane Shiels’ synchronised lighting design and the glitter cannons and smoke machines is impressive. Yet despite the technical complexity, it all supports the Brechtian non-naturalistic style that Big Telly adhere to in their production of Bouncers with The MAC.
Some of them want to use you / … to get used by you / … to abuse you / … to be abused

For the second time in less than a week, Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This is aptly included in a play. McConaghie mixes together so many familiar tracks with original music, and plays with speed and ambiance to create a backing track that lasts the duration of the play and on its own nearly justifies a visit to the theatre to listen to it.

Marty Maguire, Conor Grimes, Ciaran Nolan and Chris Robinson play the four doormen, transforming themselves through stance and pitch of voice into a group of four women celebrating a birthday and four men on a night out. The play is rooted in the 1980s, with mention of LPs and a great play list of songs woven into the action.

The bouncers are lecherous, jaundiced, philosophising misogynists, quite prejudiced and at times homophobic too. They talk about violence but don’t really demonstrate much menace until some well-choreographed fight scenes towards the end of the second half.

Flicking between characters and scenes in the foggy, tunnelled set is fast and effective. The toilet humour, more properly urinal humour, is funny in its vulgarity. Women in the audience laugh a lot more than the men at the antics and the abusive situations portrayed. It’s as if an amusing curtain has been raised into the male mind and macho culture.

John Godber’s script has been gently Norn Iron-ised, with C&A replaced with Dunnes and some local locations thrown in. It’s a deliberately provocative work, which pulls no punches in terms of language, sexualised content and neanderthal attitudes.

While the blokey cast is balanced up by a mostly-female creative team, given the multi-gender, multi-role nature of Bouncers, switching two of the cast for female actors would have revitalised the play’s appeal and the comparisons with 1980s and today, and it might have freshened up the comedy, which at times is (deliberately) as stale as the wet floors in the gents.

There’s no sense that the bouncers are a tight team. They’re co-workers rather than chums, each bringing their own baggage to the night shift. John Godber’s script and Zoe Seaton’s direction paint them as individuals. The first half sets up the three sets of characters, leaving the shorter second half to watch situations of conflict erupt and find resolution.

Lucky Eric is the senior figure, looked up to as a sage head, but carries the burden of separation from his wife and some of his monologues are devoted to his distress at the exploitation and objectification of the scantily clad women who pass through his doors. Marty Maguire was born to be a bounder, and his Eric hides any vulnerability behind a cloak of confidence and bravado.

Judd treads the adult section at his local Xtra-vision and constantly spars with Eric, picking fights as if to pass the time. Ciaran Nolan brings his wiriness and pulled faces to Les. Ralph is quiet one of the bunch and the real thinker in whom Chris Robinson instils a sense of being aloof and the least clubbable of the four.

Together on stage they’re like a boyband, singing while grinding out dance routines to familiar hits. I fully expected that them to pull off their bags trousers and turn into the Chippendales.

There’s a definite them and us vibe, with those in the stalls looking down at the hundred or so people sitting around circular tables in front of the stage wondering why they wanted to be treated like VIPs with table service drinks, and the snobs down below looking up and realising that the regular theatre seats are so much more comfortable than the ill-padded chairs they’ve paid extra to sit on.

Bouncers is a quality production, with great physicality on stage matched by an all-encompassing sound, lights and set. The play was written in 1977 and revised in 1983 and 1991. Has the reality of clubland changed much since then? Last year’s rugby trial suggests that some men’s attitudes towards sex and women still fall short of respect. Watching that acted out on stage as 1980’s nostalgia and realising that it’s still true is shocking and takes a bit of the shine off the entertainment factor.

You can get your name down for the door by contacting The MAC box office and be guaranteed entry into the Luminaire Club until the run finishes on 20 April.

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