I’m not sure how much of John Byrne’s work I was aware of before being glued to the television for 6 weeks in 1987 by the fabulously funny “Tutti Frutti”, but I knew he was the artist who created the cover of Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 album “City To City”. Certainly it is his art that I know him best for, but for others, it is as playwright that he is renowned. “The Slab Boys”, which was first staged in 1978 at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre, was not his first, but is certainly his best known play, and I’m quite surprised that I have never seen it performed on stage before.
Positively autobiographical, the story of a pair of lads working in the ‘slab room’ of a carpet factory in Paisley (based on the famous Stoddart’s factory where Byrne worked in 1957). It describes a time in British society when things were changing rapidly and the ‘old guard’ who had “…fought two world wars for the likes of you…” were being challenged by the youth as they all headed towards the Sixties.
The old guard in this instance is represented by the lads boss, Willie Curry, played perfectly by David Hayman – who also directs the production – and Sadie (Kathryn Howden) the no-nonsense tea lady.
The youth make up the rest of the cast, although ‘Plooky’ Jack Hogg (James Allenby-Kirk), recently promoted Slab Boy, might be better lumped in with the oldies!
The play’s ‘love interest’ Lucille (Kiera Lucchesi) and ‘new boy’ Alan (Kieran Baker) are key characters, but it is the trio of Slab Boys on which the story focuses.
Although they are all aged 19, Hector (Scott Fletcher) is the naive member of the team, whereas Phil and Spanky seem to think they are men of the world. Jamie Quinn as Spanky puts in a wonderful performance, but Sammy Hayman as Phil is a little disappointing. However, John Byrne has provided them with a wonderful script and the whole cast deliver an engaging play.
The story highlights a host of issues coming to a head in the late Fifties, and as such is a lovely piece of Social History. But at the same time it is delivered, wrapped up in a thick layer of humour very reminiscent of the style peddled by Francie & Josie (if you remember them!); at times it’s almost slapstick comedy, worthy of Buster Keaton (who, I hear many of you ask? Google him.)
In conclusion, I would have to say that although I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, my report card has to say “could do better”, as some of the cast just weren’t quite as good as the rest. The script and direction on the other hand redeemed it and the set – unmistakably designed by Byrne himself – was wonderful.