Nasty Nick flexes his muscle

Bouncers brings John Altman from EastEnders face to face with another soap-opera bad boy
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The Independent Culture

"It's written well, that's why I chose to do it," said John Altman (who plays bad boy Nick Cotton in EastEnders) of Bouncers, John Godber's classic comedy. "Great lines such as, 'Durex lay like dead Smurfs - a symbol of a battle won, a conquest made, another victory over a hairdresser from Catford.' " Certainly, it's a theatrical night-out-on-the-tiles.

Bouncers was first performed in 1977 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, at a time when tickets went for 50p. It became one of those shows that, once started, proved unstoppable, and is now touring nationally, following a successful run in the West End's Whitehall Theatre.

With only two weeks to rehearse for the tour, John Altman was reeling off his lines from his 67 pages of dialogue. "I switch constantly between three characters: Eric, Maureen and Baz. I was told it would stretch me!" There is Lucky Eric, a bouncer, so-called because he always finds a fiver on the dance floor. Maureen, "a bit busty, but not a bag, likes a drink and a bit of a laugh". And a young yob called Baz, "fit for a fight Friday night - get down there, have a skinful, maybe a Chinese chicken-in-a-basket, and try to pull a bird".

By way of research, Altman has drawn on the period when he made personal appearances at clubs, in the character of Nick Cotton: "I was paid to turn up, pretend to strangle the DJ, and get dragged out by bouncers." He has just finished playing Billy Flynn in the stage version of Chicago. "This is a complete contrast, once again." He is pretty good at popping off the set of EastEnders to do other work, "unlike other soap stars who can't handle it".

There are four male cast- members, including Nigel Pivaro (Terry Duckworth in Coronation Street). Bringing two bad boys of soap face to face on stage for the first time has a certain pulling power for audiences. "There is rivalry," says Altman. "His character is called Judd - and he is always prodding and pushing Eric mentally, saying, 'Saw your wife in here earlier dancing with some young lager louts...' " Eventually, Eric snaps, and breaks Judd's arm. I think audiences will like that."

Christopher Connel and Andrew Dennis complete the cast, who play a total of 47 parts between them - from lager louts to handbag-clutching girls. Rehearsals have the discipline of a military operation. "We've got four handbags and two beer barrels as props. There are no costume changes. We wear tuxedos and we use mime and movement to portray the character changes," explains Altman. "The music will change - different disco numbers - one minute I'm a woman, then suddenly I'm a man. It's quite bizarre."

'Bouncers' is at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley, tomorrow to 26 July, then tours nationally to 30 November: Stoke-on-Trent 28 July to 2 August; Richmond 4-9 August; Glasgow 11-16 August. Booking: 020-7321 5440

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