King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Tue 10 to Sat 14 March 2015
19.30 (wed/sat mat 14.30)
Slab Boys is set in the Slab room of a paint mixing factory in Paisley in the late 1950’s. There is a massive poster of James Dean, painted by Byrne, centre stage on the door of a cupboard. Two Glaswegians, one clearly a beatnik (complete with quiff) stride onto the stage, an amazingly high pitched weigie accent is squeezed from the nose of George ‘Spanky’ Farrel (Jamie Quinn). He is accompanied by Hector Mckenzie (Scott Fletcher) who don paint stained brown overalls in a particularly grimy looking work shop. The dialogue begins and it is evident from the beginning that this show is going to be back to back with one liners. All intensely colloquial…I love these, and common language is a consistent issue with me and my mum so I’m glad its here. They are joined slightly later by the in house rebel without a cause Phil Mcann (Sammy Hayman), who although bad, is a lad with a heart of gold. His unfortunate background is disguised in humour. A brilliant way of talking about difficult social issues such as mental health. When this was written about and played originally you probably would people have laughed so easily at the misfortunes of a mentally ill woman throwing herself through a plate glass window and being abused by the health care system I ask myself? I mean if it wasn’t in a historical context.
Class divide is put out there by the introduction of blazer-wearing public school boy, Alan Downie (Keiran Baker). Slab boys/working class versus public schools and desks. This is accentuated by plooky fat man, Jack Hogg (James Allenby-Kirk), and Lucille Bentley (Keira Lucchesi). They straddle both the slab room and the higher positions in the factory. Enter boss man Willie Curry (David Hayman), a kind of Sawney Bean disguised as Basil Fawlt, & the patoir between him and the boys is priceless, full of constant quips like ‘this is a a rest home for retired beatniks, not a slab room‘, to which they consistently reply with unphased sarcastic retorts. The dialogue is sing songy or perhaps it would be better to parallel it with spoken word and almost reminds me of Scottish hip hop band Stanley Odd. It is accompanied by exaggerated almost dance like movement on the stage. The two beatniks appropriate a duet like stance in many situations. There are constant cultural references to do with fashion, class and religion. Some of them nearly deceased by today’s standards some still frighteningly relevant!
The play watches like an extended version of the Young Ones including guest appearances from Billy Bunter. All wickedly eccentric exaggerated characters. My older cousin was a massive fan of all the 80’s BBC comedy stuff, which he recorded on VHS, so I’ve always known John Byrne’s Tutti Frutti and I can see now where it all started. I watched these all on a sunday afternoon after church. It didn’t make sense to me when I was a nipper like the young ones did in a slap stick way but Comic Strip giant Robbie Coltrane sucked me in even then! I might even go again!
While I was in the toilet at half time I overheard a conversation from some 16 year old girls who had come with their class. One of them stated, ‘well it’s better than I thought it would be’. If I was John Byrne I would take this as a massive compliment! Imagine…a child of the teenies even pretending to like some thing about the 50’s made in the 70’s. It’s the equivalent , in my mind, of giving them a BBC computer and expecting them to know what to do with it!
Reviewer : Sarah Marshall