We have two for the price of one at the Playhouse Whitstable with Theatrecraft presenting Bouncers written by John Godber and Shakers by Godber and his wife Jane Thornton. It may not be widely known but after Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn, Godber is Britain’s most performed playwright. It is not difficult to see why when these plays are driven at full throttle, as they are by Theatrecraft this week. Both of these plays are written and mostly performed as one acts but the subject matter, era and characters have an almost complete synergy.
Congratulations to Theatrecraft for this double helping of 1980's life featuring characters who by turns are funny, tragic, philosophic and endearingly crude. The play could not be more British with themes of class, sex and booze, a hedonistic mix which can still be witnessed (or enjoyed) on the streets of any town today.
These two plays are given just the right setting with plenty of stage space to allow the actors to efficiently create the many micro scenes; dance floor, toilet, restaurant, bathroom and many more. The direction by Andrew Cozens is assured and imaginative; clean moves that allowed settings to be convincing to be inhabited by the many diverse characters. The lighting is suitably brash and the sound effects spot on. All the actors wear microphones but I am not convinced they are needed as all the actors are very assured and the Playhouse is not a massive space. It is refreshing to see plays without props; the actors’ confidence and technique in painting a picture without them is very well done.
These plays gave great opportunities but also a number of challenges to the actors. Nik Waller, Chris Perkins, Craig Durrant and Joe Morgan in Bouncers and Amy Byrne, Grace Smith, Heather Kemp and Debi Lovell in Shakers all make the most of the acting opportunities and confidently meet the challenges in these two difficult plays. Ensemble acting means co-operation and unselfishness, an antidote to the tyranny of plays with leading men and women and star vehicles. Good ensemble acting is not always easy to define but you know it when you see it, and it is on display in Bouncers and Shakers that’s for sure. The actors all create very different people but as a group put across the shared hopes and fears of the disparate characters as a single voice.
Set in Thatcher's Britain, Bouncers and Shakers is still resonant today and was given a fine outing by Theatrecraft. Skilful direction and creative acting was supported by an obviously talented and hardworking production team.