Shakers: Under New Management shines light on post-Covid hospitality at the New Vic

The high street might be struggling to get back to normal but the Shakers bar is under new management and they are determined to make it the place to be seen. Pubs are closing, Gin bars are so yesterday, and cocktails and decadence are back for the roaring 2020s, as the hospitality industry looks to a new future.

John Godber and Jane Thornton – the double BAFTA winning partnership – have reimagined their almost 40-year-old play Shakers for a post-Covid audience, highlighting the difficulties the hospitality industry has faced in recent times, and how the punters have changed, too.

One this week at the New Vic, Shakers – the sister play to Bouncers, which will be coming to Staffordshire this spring – follows waitresses Adele, Nicky and Mel as they juggle home, work, school and everything in between.

A lot has changed since Shakers was first staged in 1985, but sadly, victim blaming and a lack of women’s safety is still haunting nightlife. Misogyny is rife, the walk home after closing feels longer than ever, the customers are getting more leering, the hours longer, but the pay hasn’t changed. 

The production sees three female actresses play an entire cast of extras, from leery lads and teachers letting their hair down, to arrogant middle class men and tory wives. There’s something ironic about Yasmin Dawes, Jazmine Franks and Rebecca Tebbett playing ball-scratching blokes, and it certainly wasn’t lost on the audience.

Jane Thornton said: “The female voice is stronger now than it was back then, and there is no doubt that things like the women’s Euros have definitely drawn attention to the unfair balance women have experienced in many areas of life. The gender pay gap still exists and in terms of theatre there are still far fewer female playwrights than men and fewer female directors of theatres.”

It seems fitting that the John Godber company always chooses to return to the New Vic, where we proudly have a fierce female-led team in director Theresa Heskins and managing director Fiona Wallace.

Shakers is one of those Instagrammable bars – you know the ones – artificial plants, heated seating and fairy lights. Anyone who has worked in the industry will immediately relate, and if not, they’ve probably watched enough TikTok skits to sympathise. The production has been extremely well researched, with the team talking to bar staff and observing drinkers that have been ‘released’ from lockdown.

Jane added: “As we began to research the Shakers, Under New Management version the behaviour of the public in some of the bars where we spoke to the staff certainly left us open mouthed. After such a period of lockdown it seems that some of us are emerging as much more self centred, short tempered and angry.”

Meanwhile, staff reconcile zero hours contracts, shoddy working conditions, no breaks, poor pastoral facilities and scant health and safety provisions, not to mention sexual harrassment and the dangers of being alone at night.

Jazmine, best known for her role as Esther Bloom in Hollyoaks, plays a fantastic role as a single mum, boozy teacher and several letchy men, accompanied by Yasmin and Rebecca, who find themselves dancing to a current soundtrack of Nikki Minaj and Beyonce, reminding us we’re very much in Sunak’s Britain, now, as opposed to Thatcher’s. Only, there’s no more eat out to help out, either. 

The women do a fantastic job of switching from sloshed customer to overworked waitress in the blink of an eye, highlighting very real struggles many of us are facing in 2022. As such, the audience empathised as we heard the stories of these women, working the bar to make ends meet as a cost of living crisis looms and post-Covid insecurity sees a lack of jobs available.

And despite the pressures we’re facing, Godber and Thornton have done what Brits do best, injecting comedy and wit that leaves the audience in stitches as the ladies throw a middle finger to the patriarchy – and a few customers, too.

The trio do a knockout job of making the audience feel every single emotion throughout this production, and I near shed a tear at the closing statements which talked about how business is being put in front of women’s safety, and how we’re forced to walk home alone constantly looking over our shoulders, expecting to be harrassed. It hit extremely close to home.

Gritty, emotional, and yet fizzing with humour, this revamped version of Shakers is a must watch – particularly for a young female audience. The production puts women’s lives front and centre, as everyone returns to going out out. Catch it at the New Vic theatre until Saturday, October 29.

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