Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Slab Boys

John Byrne
Traverse, Edinburgh
(2003)

The Slab Boys is an audience-friendly two hours of dark-to-slapstick comedy and real-life pathos. It takes place in the "slab room" - the paint-mixing and preparation department - of a design studio.

The story slides easily along over the course of one Friday in the slab room, where Spanky (Iain Robertson) and Phil (Paul Thomas Hickey) crack jokes and torment the earnest but socially stunted Hector (Alan Tripney). The hard time they give Hector is the stuff that juvenile education anti-bullying programs were made to combat, but since they say they're doing it in Hector's best interests audiences are meant to excuse the nastiness of the two main characters. Between taking shots at Hector, Phil and Spanky slobber over Lucille (Molly Innes), heckle their bosses, and do their best to avoid putting in any actual work.

The end of the play attempts to end on a moral note, but the boys haven't been pulling any punches over the course of the show and it's hard to feel sympathy for either the guy who gets stuck in the slab room or the one who's had his hopes dashed out.

The production itself shines, bringing out the schoolyard feeling evoked by the story. While Spanky and Phil are kings of the playground, taking off on flights of musical fancy at the drop of a hat, Innes' performance as the dishy-but-bitchy Lucille evokes little sympathy and a lot of resentment, especially as it's hard to think she deserves the guy she winds up with at the end of the play. As monitors for the "kids," the audience has Sadie (Una McLean) the tea-lady, who coddles Hector with motherly affection, and ex-military Willie Curry (Michael Mackenzie) as a sort of head-of-school drill sergeant.

Straight man and new recruit Alan (Grant O'Rourke) offers an outsider's perspective on the antics of the slab room, and it's Alan who comes off looking best - enthusiastic, friendly, and hard-working without, thankfully, losing the sincerity that makes him a genuinely likeable character.

Roxana Silbert's direction is expert. The breakneck speed of the play is well-maintained throughout the performance, and whatever layers are in the material to be exploited have been taken advantage of.

From photos available in the program (which also features the scripts of all three plays from The Slab Boys trilogy), it seems that the design of the show (by Neil Warmington) has taken a cue from the original production without being enslaved by it.

The Traverse's revival of The Slab Boys marks the beginning of it's mini-season of Byrne's works - subsequent titles in the trilogy, Cuttin' A Rug and Still Life will be performed in the early months of 2004, with casts consisting, for the most part, of the same performers (though some of the actors will take on new roles as the series progresses). The Slab Boys will be performed up to 7th December, as well as several shows after the 6th January. Details can be found on the Traverse Theatre website (http://www.traverse.co.uk/).

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Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody