Just before Christmas, “Bouncers” takes place.
‘Ticket sales are picking up,’ says Hovis Hair a few days before performance. ‘A slow burner.’ She purses her lips. ‘A friend tells me it’s quite violent. Bad language.’
‘It’s meant to be a comedy,’ I venture. ‘There’s an edge to it, but essentially it should be funny.’
She frowns. ‘My husband and I are coming on the Saturday. Is it suitable for children?’
‘I’d exercise some caution. Teenagers, fine. Younger than that probably not.’
Hovis Hair nods. ‘What does the Head think?’
‘Um, well, I haven’t asked him. He knows it’s what I’m putting on. I know he’d prefer a musical.’ I repeat my story about Biggles. ‘Next year.’
Later that afternoon, Fizz tells me she’s been asked for her copy of “Bouncers.” ‘By the Headmaster’s secretary,’ she says. ‘Bit odd don’t you think?’
The next day there’s a summons to see The Big Cheese. What’s that all about? He’s at his desk. There’s a copy of “Bouncers” on it. He fixes me, flint-like as I stand like a schoolboy. He picks up the script. ‘I’ve just been scanning this,’ he says. ‘I don’t like it. It’s not at all suitable for a school in my opinion.’
‘Headmaster, it’s a bawdy comedy.’ I pause. Try to choose words oh so carefully. ‘Perhaps when you see it; sometimes these things are better seen from page to stage.’
‘I don’t want to be inundated with parents complaining,’ he retorts. ‘Just as we’re building up numbers. I don’t want us to have a reputation for being reckless.’ He hands the script back to me. ‘I worry this is inappropriate.’ Sighs heavily, before skewering me with his gobstoppers. ‘I’ve got large parties coming to see it. Prep Heads. Parents. It’s not ideal.’
Now on opening night, I’m in Row L centre seat, notebook open. There’s some background music playing quietly over the speakers. The soundtrack to the production; Prokofiev’s “The Dance of the Knights.” Gandalf’s fiddling with a light, rattling a chain. The Commander’s chomping on a sandwich, checking his clipboard. There are black curtains and painted black boards reducing the size of the auditorium. Like a club. The stage is a black box, empty save for four steel beer barrels. No curtains.
The door to the auditorium opens and a figure in black tie, penguin suit, white shirt, black boots, appears. ‘Hi. What do you think of my hair?’ Fizz has plastered it down, severely gripped.
She leaps up the stairs and shimmies down the row to sit next to me. Talks of Balls. ‘Have you seen his? He’s taken a shaver to his head.’
‘Looks like a convict. Are you looking forward to it?’
‘Yes. Bit nervous, but that’s to be expected. Still, it’s not me who’s doing it. That’s your job. Are you looking forward to it?’
‘Oh yes. But I’ll be happy when the blue movie scene’s over. Gets me every time.’
‘You’ll nail it. I thought it had improved no end last night. Really funny.’
She wrinkles her nose, then leans in to peek at my notes. ‘Anything in particular for me?’
‘No. Just keep sharp. If anyone dries, you might need to help out. There were one or two horrible moments last night. Particularly in the first scene. You skipped a couple of pages. Important info missed as a result.’
‘That’s because there’s a couple of lines that are too similar for cues.’
‘I’ll write to Godber and complain.’
The door opens and the other three come in. All in penguin suits and black boots.
‘Wow!’ I exclaim as Balls climbs the steps. ‘That’s pretty radical.’
He laughs and runs his hand over his naked scalp. ‘Went a bit mad. Hope it grows back soon.’
There’s not the same stab of pain now when I see him. The terrible pang of jealousy. The rehearsal process has seen to that. Water under bridges. Drama breaking barriers.
Rubber Man is cracking his knuckles. Rolling his head, loosening neck muscles. Twinkletoes is putting on a bandana.
Gandalf descends the ladder. ‘I’ve put some small crosses on stage,’ he growls to them. ‘Can you try and stand in them as much as possible? I’ve adjusted a couple of parcans specially.’
The Commander’s finished his sandwich. ‘I’ll call you five minutes before curtain-up.’ Turns to me. ‘You’re still starting from the back of the auditorium aren’t you?’
‘Once the music’s kicked in, they’ll come down the steps and on.’
He taps his clipboard. ‘It’s filled up actually. Well over a hundred not counting any on the door.’
Gandalf grunts. ‘It’ll fill for the next two nights once word gets out. Might have to extend the seating area. There’s still a few who seem to think it’s not suitable.’
‘What do you think, sir?’ asks Twinkletoes.
Gandalf considers. ‘I think it’s very clever. And any dubious content is more than made up for by the acting.’
‘There,’ I say. ‘An endorsement par excellence.’
I go through my few notes. At the end I thank them. ‘It’s been pretty full on I know. We’ve done well not to lose our tempers really. Thanks for being so laid back. And your ideas have made all the difference.’
‘Is the Head coming, sir?’ asks Rubber Man.
‘He normally does. All three nights.’
Balls rubs his head again. ‘Will you clear this with him, sir?’
‘If necessary. If he comes, he’ll understand I’m sure.’ I peep at my watch. ‘Right. That’s it. Get behind stage and do some warm-ups nearer the time. I’m disappearing.’
‘Where are you going?’ asks Fizz.
I tap my nose. ‘Never you mind.’
In fact I’m heading back to Orchard Cottage where BJ’s ready with the pipe.
The auditorium’s emptying, still some smoke from the finale, a babble of conversation. I’m watching from the lighting box. Filmic detachment. See Gentle Giant talking to Gandalf. The signature tune for the bouncers is turned down low. Exit music.
BJ’s scanning the place. Ready for the pub. Biggles and Taff are laughing together.
No sign of The Big Cheese. Oh well.
I exit the lighting box to trot down the stairs to stage. The Commander hurries up past. ‘Saw the Head being collared by some parents.’
Gentle Giant addresses me when I reach the apron. ‘To be honest I came with some misgivings, but there’s no denying its literary merit. Very thought provoking.’
BJ rushes up. ‘Fuckin’ great, man. Love all that swearing.’ He leans in, more quietly. ‘Did you see that wanker, Bland?’
Mister Bland is an anodyne Geography teacher. ‘No.’
‘Walked out before the interval.’
The cast are reappearing, wiping off make-up, hugging friends, family. Fizz comes bouncing up, all smiles. ‘Did you enjoy it?’
Balls is there too. ‘How do you think it went, sir?’
‘What happened at the start? Missed some lines somewhere.’
‘It’s those cues. Sorry. Maybe tomorrow.’
Rubber Man is with his mum and dad. Dad pumps my hand. ‘I’d not heard of it before; didn’t know what to expect. Thank you for all your work.’
‘Pleasure. He’s so expressive. Makes it easy for me.’
Twinkletoes joins us. ‘Hi, sir. Was I butch enough tonight?’
I laugh. ‘Very macho.’
Gandalf comes up; growls. ‘Trying to clear up. Let’s be having you.’ There’s a Silk Cut behind his ear.
Next morning, after aspirin and coffee I check my pigeonhole. A figure appears at my side fiddling in the post. It’s Mister Bland. Should I say something? ‘Think I saw you at the play last night.’
‘Yes.’ There’s a silence. ‘I’m afraid it wasn’t my cup of tea. Not suitable for a school.’ He stops fiddling. ‘What’s the Head said?’
He raises an eyebrow. ‘I find it hard to believe that he could endorse such a project.’ He waves his post at me. ‘Especially as we’re trying to boost numbers. I can’t believe any prospective parent would allow their child to come to a school that condones such poor taste. Sorry, but that’s my opinion.’ And off he goes.
I scan the rest of my post.
After assembly The Big Cheese calls me into his study. ‘Shut the door.’
He indicates a seat.
‘I’ve heard from a few parents about “Bouncers.” Some last night, and some this morning.’
Here we go.
‘Thought I’d pass on their feedback.’ He opens an envelope. Starts to read. ‘“Such a bold choice. I went in trepidation but came away uplifted. I haven’t laughed as much for such a long time.”’ He pulls out another. ‘“I was thinking I don’t want to go. A school production? But I came away with a huge smile on my face.”’
He waves the papers. ‘There are others. Similar ilk.’
Wow. ‘Thank you. That’s reassuring. I take it you haven’t heard from Mister Bland then?’
He looks at me over specs. ‘He came to see me first thing. Not a happy camper.’
‘What about you?’
He removes his specs. Purses his lips. ‘Not keen on the language if I’m honest; but I can see why you wanted to put it on. I thought the four actors were stunning.’
‘I don’t imagine it’ll be everyone’s cup of tea. The Marmite effect I expect. It’ll be interesting to see how audience numbers go now.’
‘There’s a party from St George’s coming tonight. Their Drama Director’s bringing his students. And ticket sales have picked up already.’
‘Well,’ he considers. ‘I was invited to St George’s last production. “The Boy Friend.” Very slick, but perhaps lacking that raw edge? With my marketing hat on, we’ve positioned ourselves as the antithesis of them as far as drama is concerned.’ He hesitates. ‘Hope we’ve not made a mistake.’
The Dance of the Knights from “Romeo and Juliet” Op. 64 Act I The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra - Prokofiev
It’s a shame for me that this piece of music has become associated with the UK TV programme “The Apprentice” because before that, it was absolutely my tie to a production of “Bouncers” that I directed back in the early 2000’s. It’s a great show…full of belly laughs, some underlying violence, yet hugely poignant. This piece announces the bouncers for the first time on stage and creates absolutely that feeling of immense power underneath their black-tie respectability.
About the Author: Richard Parsons
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was a youngster; creative writing in English lessons was my favourite part of school life along with swapping music with mates or playing sport.
When I decided to quit teaching after many happy years, I applied for and won a scholarship to do a Masters at Plymouth Uni in Creative Writing. Drama was really the main string to my bow, but I soon became hooked on the idea of crafting short stories, and, eventually, the longer form of narrative. After graduating with a distinction, I cut my teeth writing for women’s magazines, but this was never in my own “voice” and was always formulaic. “Given Circumstances” is the real me.
Hope you enjoy it!