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Staging The Nation

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
5 stars
When John Byrne is asked by fellow playwright Chris Hannan about his
use of language in his seminal slice of Scots working class
tragic-comedy, The Slab Boys, Byrne states how the baroque, pop culture
savvy patois that drives the drama came from a hatred of “pedestrian”
writing. Byrne singles out mundane lines like ‘What time is it?’ as a
particular example of naturalistic banality. Ten minutes later,
actresses Charlene Boyd and Julie Duncanson are on the floor acting out
a scene from the play between glamourpuss Lucille and tea lady Sadie.
In an already hilarious set of exchanges, Duncanson utters the
self-same line just dissed by its author, and the packed audience
erupts at the gloriously contrary joy of what has just occurred.

Subtitled The Traverse, New Writing and How it Changed the World, this
first of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Staging The Nation Events
gathered together many of the key players who helped sire The Slab Boys
and duly usher in a new era for home-grown theatre. Cast members
included Robbie Coltrane, Jim Byars and Ida Schuster, with original
director David Hayman and former Traverse artistic director Chris Parr
– whose vision Byrne praised as something that “changed the whole
history of theatre in Scotland” – also in attendance.

With Hannan in the chair, the old gang run through a scene from the
play unrehearsed before the dots are joined between The Slab Boys and
other landmark works. Beyond the rapid-fire banter, some serious points
are made about the play’s sense of working class aspiration in a very
special once in a lifetime reunion of the team behind a crucial tipping
point of Scottish culture.

the Herald, March 24th 2011

ends

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