As I enter the doors of Maesteg Town Hall, Ralph (Gareth John Bale) stares me up and down, stony faced… am I dressed smartly enough to go in? I collect my ticket. Judd (Sam Davies) and Les (Ross Ford) sneer and watch for any trouble as I head to my seat. Lucky Eric (Morgan Hopkins) watches proceedings from the stage, in front of the set: a mosaic of white squares, which fills the stage.
The lights dim, and the Bouncers assemble on stage and begin to rap. This is our introduction to the world of the Bouncers, re-imagined from John Godber’s original Yorkshire setting to bring us to a night out in South Wales! Throughout the evening we follow a group of ‘lads’, a group of ‘girls’ and the ‘Bouncers’ of the title, on a night out.
Bouncers is a play of social comment and comedy which had the audience laughing from beginning to end, being able to see themselves, friends and neighbours brought to life on stage. One of the comedic highlights comes in Act 2, where the bouncers settle down to watch a ‘Blue Movie’. Morgan Hopkins takes the role of the buxom blonde and Gareth John Bale the horny Swedish postman… I’ll leave the rest to your imagination, but suffice it to say it brought the house down and even encouraged some giggles from the cast!
The individual performances are strong, with effective differentiation shown in the multiple roles played by each actor offering them opportunity for their comedic brilliance to shine through. Sam Davies playing ‘Judd’ has captured the ‘small man complex’ perfectly, seemingly only a moment away from snapping – attacking the other bouncers and clients of the club. Ross Ford as in his first professional performance particularly shines as ‘Rosie’ (from the group of girls) bringing to the stage the tears and drama of a drunken 21st birthday party out with the girls!
Gareth John Bale as ‘Thexy Thuzie’ (note the lisp!) was ‘cute’ and wonderfully different to the inner menace of his portrayal of ‘Ralph’. Morgan Hopkins should be singled out for particular praise, with his 4 monologues delivered beautifully, mixing humour with social comment which, was particularly striking, contrasting beautifully with his lad ‘Baz’ and girl ‘Maureen’.
That being said, unfortunately this was a cast which wasn’t as strong as the sum of its parts. Although individually effective, there didn’t seem to be the relationship between the bouncers which the piece requires to work to its full potential. For example in scenes between Eric and Judd (who have a history – Eric has taught to power lift and they were close) their past relationship doesn’t shine through which means their current antagonism doesn’t seem to make sense.
The set designed by Hilary Statts consisted of a wall of white squares made from a variety of different materials. Throughout the evening it was projected on to and lit to differentiate the different locations. Gavin Thomas’ projections worked well, particularly when the cast took ‘selfies’ with an imaginary phone, which were then shown on the back wall and the occasional ‘#’ showed up!
Robin Bainbridge’s lighting design and James Marsh’s sound design captured the essence of a ‘club’ and the mood of the piece, though the lighting could have been better utilised as there were occasional moments of confusion for the audience as to which group we were with and the sound sometimes drowned out the speech.
The direction by Richard Tunley is sound, with the above exceptions. However in Maesteg Town Hall, where I saw the production, I would rather have seen it produced on the flat, not on the proscenium arch stage as it separated the audience from the cast and made audibility and the cast’s connection with the audience difficult.
Overall this is a good piece of theatre and, if you have ever been for a night out in any of the South Wales Valley’s (or on a valleys night out in Cardiff!), you will be able to recognise the characters of the lads, girls and bouncers with who you will be familiar.
A Black RAT Productions / Blackwood Miners’ Institute / RCT Theatres co-production