Writer: John Byrne
Director: David Hayman
Designer: John Byrne
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
There will be few productions in Scotland this year that will be met with more anticipation than the Citizens Theatre revival of John Byrne’s seminal work The Slab Boys. 37 years on from its debut at the Traverse in Edinburgh, original director David Hayman and creator John Byrne reunite to celebrate the Citz 70th year. Mythologised as the play that inspired an entire generation of Scottish writers and performers, the question is: does it stand up to its reputation and regard?
It’s 1957, a typical Friday in a Paisley carpet factory, despite the slate grey surroundings, the seeds of teenage rebellion fester under posters of James Dean and Elvis: “Slab Boys” Phil (Sammy Hayman) and Spanky (Jamie Quinn) rail against both the establishment and circumstance, yearning for a life outside the confines of the “slab room”where their days are spent mixing paint. While Phil dreams of entrance into art school, Spanky wants to make it to a desk in the design room, but the pair’s energies seem to be wholly invested in relentlessly tormenting any and all visitors to their domain, especially their fellow “slab boy” Hector (Scott Fletcher).
Fans will be happy to know that the play retains much of its original allure: Byrne’s brilliantly observed dialogue comes across as razor sharp as it always has, and the work remains one of the finest examples of ensemble theatre. The audience still laughs at the cruelty of Spanky and Phil, but it must be said, in these days of political correctness, there are points where you are left wondering whether to laugh or squirm in discomfort at the relentless torment, even talk of Phil’s mother’s mental illness is delivered with a barrage of cruel barbs. But however brutal the ribbing gets, there is an understanding that it is very much a defence and when the chips are down the pair still have enough heart to rally to the aid of the unfortunate Hector.
There are a brace of fine performances here: director Hayman delivers a sure-footed turn as bombastic factory manager Willie Currie; Jamie Quinn’s Spanky has all the swagger of the typical west of Scotland wide-boy and Kieran Baker’s middle class Alan, is a perfectly pitched foil for the coarse central duo; Scott Fletcher too, is irresistible (not to mention hysterical) as the naive Hector. However, less successful is Sammy Hayman’s Phil: whether it’s nerves, inexperience, bad diction or miscasting, Hayman Jr’s dialogue, delivered at machine gun fire pace, is often lost into the ether, and while he perfectly captures the brutality and callousness of Phil, he fails to bring the required charm that elevates the rôle to one of the best in Scottish theatre.
David Hayman’s production is sure-footed but one gripe would be the length of the piece, it would benefit from judicious trimming to make it even tighter, the inevitable climax is a little long in coming, but that said it remains unfailingly entertaining throughout.
A solid and satisfying production with plenty of laugh-out loud humour, but lacking that certain something that makes for brilliance.
Runs until Saturday 7 March 2015 then touring