Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The Slab Boys

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

The black and white portrait daubed on the cupboard door of A.F. Stobbo's carpet factory slab room sums up everything in David Hayman's revival of John Byrne's play that changed so much in Scottish theatre when it was first seen in 1978. Here is the original rebel without a cause who already crashed and burned by the time the play opens in 1957, but who, looking down like a god and painted in a pop art style, points to the cultural revolutions to come for working class wannabes like Spanky and Phil, the fast-talking heroes of Byrne's play.

Dean's image is a bridge too between the drab greyness of the cramped slab room and the customised splashes of colour which Spanky and Phil have adorned their work-place with on a set designed by Byrne himself with a sculptor's eye for detail. It's as if his subjects' lives are bursting out of their post-war restraints with a rock and roll abandon born of frustration as much as ambition.

The play itself charts a day in the life of Byrne's hapless pair alongside fellow slab boy Hector and university educated new boy Alan as they dodge the wrath of designer Plooky Jack Hogg and tyrannical boss Willie Curry, the latter played by Hayman himself with stiff-backed thunder. The assorted shenanigans that follow involving the elaborate humiliation of Scott Fletcher's Hector may be the stuff of Ealing comedy, but this is no one-dimensional cartoon. There are a welter of everyday tragedies at play here, which both define and drive those caught in the crossfire of the ordinary madness around them.

As Phil and Spanky, Sammy Hayman and Jamie Quinn spark off each other like razors, their easy banter a baroque mix of back-street slang and acquired Americana. Each pines in vain for Lucille Bentley, played by Keira Lucchesi as a high-heeled Venus with op-art stylings, while there is a fine comic cameo from Kathryn Howden as tea lady Sadie, who masks her own pain behind a gallus front in this most deadly serious of comedies.
 
The Herald, February 16th 2015

ends

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