Of the three Slab Boys plays revived by the Traverse this season, Still Life is the one best suited to the stage. While the first two parts of this trilogy seemed a bit cluttered in terms of the number of characters and situations that were raced through, Still Life centers around the two characters whose antics in The Slab Boys and Cuttin' A Rug kept the pace moving along.
Spanky and Phil (still played by Iain Robertson and Paul Thomas Hickey respectively) meet, ten years after Cuttin' A Rug, both having heard of the death of one of their ex-co-workers from the Slab Room - and both professing to mourn his death a little more than audiences can realistically be expected to believe, given how the characters interacted in the first two plays. For Still Life's first half hour, it's all about these two old pals getting back into the groove of knowing one another, and the ups and downs of this process are simply stunning. If Byrne had filled his two-hour play with just these two characters, Still Life could still have kept the audience riveted.
It's almost unfortunate, then, that he chose to clutter the play with other incidental characters - two of whom, Jack Hogg (John Kazek) and Lucille (Molly Innes) have featured in the previous two plays. Neither's presence was necessary for this story, though at least Lucille's role carried through the entire play (as opposed to Jack, who disappears after one ostentatious scene in the first act, and whose absence might have shortened the play by about fifteen non-essential minutes).
Jack, whose terminal acne has finally cleared up, has moved on to owning a men's clothing store, while Lucille and Spanky have married. In both cases, it's tough to make the mental leap out of the Stobos' Slab Room to their current situations - especially in Lucille's case, given that she never showed anything but disdain for either Phil or Spanky, and yet here we see her wedded to not one but both of the friends (one after the other, of course). Once this mental hurdle is surmounted, however, one can appreciate that Innes finally has a chance to sink her teeth into a role more layered than just the office babe - and it's about time.
Although the set seems initially simple, this impression is a deceptive one. While the benches seem functional from the beginning, it's not until Kazek uses one of the gravestones to launch into a fit of projectile-vomiting halfway across the stage that one realizes these graves aren't just eye candy - they're serving a practical purpose, too! (Although -- one can approve wholeheartedly of bodily fluids on stage, but the graphic depiction of vomit and pigeon excrement did, in this case, distract from the action taking place.)
Because the cast includes five actors who have been with the entire Slab Boys trilogy, and the programme names the same crew as was named for the first production, Still Life shows off the versatile talents of its cast and crew in tackling a wide range of subject matter.
Still Life runs until 25th January on Saturdays, Sundays, and Thursdays. Both The Slab Boys and Cuttin' A Rug are also running during this time, with more information available at the Traverse Theatre website (http://www.traverse.co.uk).
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody