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Bouncers review at the MAC, Belfast – ‘a slick, atmospheric production’

Ciaran Nolan, Marty Maguire, Chris Robinson and Conor Grimes in Bouncers at the MAC, Belfast. Photo: Neil Harrison
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There’s more to John Godber’s Bouncers than immediately meets the eye. Over four decades, its raucous humour and on-the-nail observations of a dirty, drunken night on the town have made it an enduring programming choice. But it’s hardly a laugh a minute.

Director Zoe Seaton has previous form with Godber, having worked for Hull Truck and brought several of his plays across the Irish Sea with her Big Telly company. Her instinctive familiarity with text and subtext shines out in this effective transposition from the north of England to Belfast.

In casting four popular Northern Ireland actors as Judd (Conor Grimes), Lucky Eric (Martin Maguire), Les (Ciaran Nolan) and Ralph (Chris Robinson), instant, adoring audience identification is guaranteed. Their differing physical attributes play cleverly into the quick-fire physical comedy, working a treat as a quartet of tiddly young women, a variety of desperate, sexually voracious male punters, and the cold eyed, tuxedo-clad doormen, who control the pantomime, night after night.

The MAC space has been transformed into a stylish nightclub venue, several cuts above the seedy, sweaty, urine-scented pleasure dome where this motley assortment of revellers gather.

In Seaton’s technically slick, faultlessly executed presentation, Godber’s queasy narrative, knowing social comment and dark asides are awash with nostalgia, rotating at speed through the tunnel-like perspectives of Ciaran Bagnall’s neon-lit set and Garth McConaghie’s pounding 1980s soundtrack.

After all these years, the play should feel dated but look around any city at a weekend and there they are, worse for wear, the late-night dramatis personae of Bouncers.

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Slick, atmospheric production that brings contemporary resonance to John Godber’s gritty, sardonic play