One of Scotland’s finest, and most loved, works of 20th century theatre, The Slab Boys, returned to Edinburgh last week to delight old and new fans alike. The pairing of writer and designer, John Byrne, and trusted director, David Hayman, proved to be something almost magical as the show succeeded in every effort to please its audience. Set in 1957 in working-class Paisley, there were obvious concerns about how the play would transfer to Edinburgh after a month-long run at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. Anybody feeling these concerns, however, was answered in the first five minutes as the audience reacted instantly to the humour of the play and accepted its setting without question.
Byrne’s design was flawless. The open stage gave the audience a chance to anticipate entrances and only served to add to their delight. The space was clear and functional and seemed authentic to the setting of the play. Hayman’s direction executed perfect timing throughout the play, with each actor leaving time for the inevitable laughs without over-doing it, or being seen to force the laughter.
The play revolves around the action of one day in the slab room at A. F. Stobbo & Co. carpet manufacturers. The fast paced, witty dialogue kept the play moving forward at lightning speed and the few quieter moments between characters, or where only one actor was on stage, allowed the audience a quick breather before the play continued. These softer moments played out brilliantly, but none more so than the final scene of the play where Phil (Sammy Hayman) leaves, and Spanky (Jamie Quinn) is left alone on stage to continue his work. As Phil leaves, the audience glimpses the poignancy in the moment. Quinn plays the scene beautifully and the final image is one of utter resolve rather than complete hopelessness.
The duo of Hayman and Quinn worked off each other well, letting the energy grow throughout the play. Their characters embodied a generation of young people, living month-to-month and dreaming of something bigger and better for themselves. With perfect hair and costumes, the generation seemed to come to life in their performance. Keira Lucchesi took on the role of Lucille, described as “every slab boy’s dream”, and managed to keep the audience on side, despite her cruel rejection of Hector.
This play is one that should be seen over and over. Its silly, boyish humour never fails to raise a laugh and truly entertains from start to finish. While its setting may seem specific in both time and place, it is really a story that has resonance for us all; everyone trying to make the best of what they’ve got, while looking, hoping and dreaming of something more