Bouncers actor Marty Maguire on doormen duties, high-heels & the truth behind his character
As classic comedy drama Bouncers opens at The MAC, one of its titular doormen, Marty Maguire, tells Gail Bell about reviving John Godber's hit play with a 1980s Belfast setting – and how he's coping with having to wear high-heels as part of the role
QUICK-witted and at times "close to the bone", the big, brash new production of Bouncers at The MAC will also offer up a thought-provoking comedy according to leading cast member, Marty Maguire.
The Belfast actor plays Lucky Eric, one of the four titular nightclub bouncers alongside fellow actors, Ciaran Nolan, Conor Grimes and Chris Robinson in John Godber's hit play, famously described by The Guardian as "not so much a play as a social phenomenon".
Having first hit the stage at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1977 and then updated by Godber in 1983, Bouncers has been entertaining audiences around the world ever since with a clever mix of humour and pathos as it takes a satirical look at 'dancing after dark' through the eyes of four club doormen.
The setting has been updated to 1980s Belfast for this three-week extended run at The MAC, a co-production between the theatre and Big Telly Theatre Company which features plenty of scene-setting musical hits from the era including Living on A Prayer (Bon Jovi), Tainted Love (Soft Cell) What A Feeling (Irene Cara).
The MAC's theatre space will take on more of a 'club' setting for the production – table service included – which is directed by Zoe Seaton. With her male actors playing multiple roles including female characters, Seaton has been instructing the players on how to walk in high-heels for a more "truthful" interpretation of the female form and posture.
"We play all the parts: the four male bouncers, the lads trying to get into the club and the ladies who are already through the door and having a good time – or not," teases Maguire, who, luckily, has some experience of wearing women's clothing to fall back on.
"I've played the dames in various pantomimes, of course, and I played my own wife in [Marie Jones'] Night in November, but this is something different," he says during a break in rehearsals.
"Zoe, who's brilliant at keeping it real, had us walking in heels – obviously, that's not something we're used to doing – just to see how difficult it is to maintain dignity and control your walk.
"It's just bringing in an element of realism instead of cartoon-like exaggeration."
This 'truthfulness' is something rooted deep in Maguire's personal theatrical code, whatever role he inhabits. When playing Malachy McCourt in successful-against-the-odds Angela's Ashes (the musical is back in the Grand Opera House this September), he strived to find "the heart of the character" beyond the "one-dimensional, fall-down, no-good drunk".
"I believe there is always more to a person that what appears on the surface and it's the same with this bouncer," he says.
"He's not just a man in a tuxedo; he has his own back story, just as everyone else in the play has – and they all get explored.
"Even though Bouncers is big and brash and loud in places – and we've all been dancing our legs off in rehearsals – you have to find an element of truth for the characters. In Lucky Eric's case, there's a certain world-weariness; he has been around a long time and he has seen it all, but he's still good at his job.
"He keeps the young ones in check, but although he's more tolerant, he's also the guy who could inflict the most damage – luckily, he has a way of keeping that all under wraps, most of the time."
Notwithstanding such introspection, Maguire – who sang in showbands in the 1980s and was a bouncer of sorts himself while working at a bar in Los Angeles – says the play is "incredibly funny".
"It was written 36 years ago, so the decision by The MAC to keep it in the 80s is brave," he says, "because there are so many things you could say then that you can't say now.
"Also, Belfast was a very different place then – it wasn't the same as London or Glasgow or any of the other big cities where Bouncers has been set. There were 'no go' areas and when I used to work in Topman many years ago, one of the big things was just finding somewhere to go after work or on a Saturday night.
"'A Big Night Out' at the weekend was a huge thing back then."
Now in his 50s, the role in Bouncers is yet another credit to add to a long back catalogue in theatre and TV, and Maguire is, as ever, adding little "bits and pieces" borrowed from mannerisms and aphorisms he has picked up along the way.
"I observe people a lot," he concludes. "I listen to their stories, their reaction to grief, the way they walk, the way they look and I think, 'I could use that'.
"If you base a character loosely on a person you know, there is a much better chance of keeping it real. Once you start there – with truth – and you give it your best shot, you've got a really good chance of being successful."
:: Bouncers opens at The MAC in Belfast on Saturday March 30 and runs until April 20. Tickets and showtimes at Themaclive.com/event/bouncers