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Bouncers: Why Diversity Shouldn’t Steal The Show

Scally Mag Team

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Aaron Daniels looks at Boisterous Production’s adaptation of John Godber’s award winning play Bouncers, and explains why notions of ‘diversity’ shouldn’t steal the show…

John Godber’s 1977 play, Bouncers, is the story of four door-supervisors and their experiences and interactions with clubbers. The show was first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and since then has been adapted in many ways which highlight the different cultural and societal underpinnings that are present within Godber’s original writing.

The fact that Bouncers is still performed 44 years later is a testament to both its brilliance and relevance. One of the more recent adaptations of the show has been cultivated here in Liverpool by Boisterous productions. Boisterous are a local theatre production company formed by esteemed scriptwriter Maurice Bessman, and well- regarded local director Miriam Mussa. They are the only theatre company in Liverpool specifically dedicated to BAME communities and are part of The Royal Court Theatre group.

Long before the recent clamour from public and private sector bodies to adopt strategies promoting equality and inclusivity in the wake of the contemporary tragic events involving Black people, Boisterous had been pioneering this approach regardless, and others in their field may have failed to keep pace.

The majestic Royal Court Theatre provides the setting for many of the plays which Boisterous puts out. The Royal Court is known to be the home of plays which cater to the local Scouse audience. It is often argued that if you lived 5 miles outside of the city and attended one of the plays there, you would be hard pressed to understand the nuances given how rooted they are in what it is to be Scouse.

Boisterous and their adaptation of Bouncers very much reassesses the traditional notions of what it means to be a Scouse-adapted play in Liverpool. The cast consists of Black, Yemeni, and Indian Scousers; a stark contrast to the usual casts on display at the Royal Court Theatre.

With the subtle sprinkling of cultural suggestions from afar neatly inter-woven into the dialogue and physicality of the performance, whilst still maintaining the authenticity of our local accent and commonalities, the adaptation flips conventional ideologies of Scouse on their head. This whirlwind of intersectionality- along class and race lines- forces the audience to explore the possibility that meanings for things we understand in traditional senses are often fluid and interchangeable.

Boisterous and The Royal Court are making conscious efforts to better reflect the communities across our city when it comes to the arts. Although this is a noble, morally sound, and important approach, it is a reminder that the creative sphere- arguably the place in which individuals and groups should feel most comfortable to express themselves- is still not as far along the road as it needs to be when it comes to representation.

This is not to suggest diversity is not important. It is. However, when something is presented outside of the normative default societal position of whiteness, then we are always capable of reducing brilliant work to primarily being about diversity. This can open up unstable territory, sometimes alluding to tokenism and notions of “oh Bouncers by Boisterous, that Black show?” It is the unfamiliarity of whiteness being rendered obsolete from our spaces that ignites our focus into representation overdrive. 

This adaptation of Bouncers is more than a ‘Black’ show. It is a production consisting of extremely hardworking, talented, and capable creatives with decades of experience in their respective fields. To not recognise this through allowing the unfamiliarity of zero white scousers on a Royal Court stage become your overriding thinking will not only strip you of a good time, but also overshadow the genuine credit the show deserves.

When Bouncers takes to the stage later this month, it should be the brilliance of the production that holds the limelight above all else. This is not an argument against celebrating diversity, but simply highlighting that it doesn’t always have to be the main factor. And when it does become the focal point, it can overshadow brilliance and patronise professionals. 

It is perfectly reasonable to both celebrate the efforts of those making conscious strides towards diversifying creative spaces, whilst also realising that focusing solely on this when watching a live production can moderate the hard work of talented professionals. To let unfamiliarity steal the show will only steal you of your joy. Hopefully one day, this all becomes the norm. 

Bouncers will be live at The Royal Court Theatre from 13th August 2021- 11th September 2021.

Starring Mutty Burman, Michael Horsley, Zain Salim, Joe Speare and Spykatcha

Adapted by Maurice Bessman, Directed by Miriam Mussa

Cover and article photos courtesy of The Royal Court Theatre