The Slab Boys

Mar 11 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Hyper-real humour

King’s Theatre: Tues 10 – Sat 14 Mar 2015

Funny, well performed and intelligent, the revival of John Byrne’s hugely popular The Slab Boys at the King’s gets a great deal right but falls frustratingly short of being a definitive production.

John Byrne’s play has taken on the status of a modern classic since its first staging in 1978. It depicts rebellious teenagers Phil McCann and George ‘Spanky’ Farrell, employed grinding colours in the ‘slab room’ of a Paisley carpet factory in 1957. They use cruel humour to lash out at their bosses and their put-upon colleague Hector McKenzie.

The Slab Boys Sammy Hayman (Phil), Scott Fletcher (Hector),  Jamie Quinn (Spanky). Photo: Tim Morozzo

The Slab Boys Sammy Hayman (Phil), Scott Fletcher (Hector), Jamie Quinn (Spanky). Photo: Tim Morozzo

As well as appearing on stage, the play’s original director David Hayman is in charge once again and the author himself is responsible for the design. As a result, there is a great deal that this Glasgow Citizens Theatre production gets exactly right.

The variety-derived rhythms of much of the dialogue and overall characterisation are very impressive, while the heightened realism that is necessary to do justice to the play is particularly successful.

As a result, the main characters take on a brittle quality. Their inchoate rage, railing against discrimination and mistreatment both real and perceived, disguises dashed hopes.

Jamie Quinn’s Spanky is a tour de force, channelling the spirit of music hall and relishing some of the most rococo dialogue while never losing sight of the conflict within the character.

Scott Fletcher also puts in an excellent performance. He excels at physical comedy as the suitably squirrel-like Hector, treading a fine line in making the character an obvious butt of humour without losing sight of its humanity.

humour and pathos

David Hayman, not surprisingly for a man steeped in this play, also manages this balancing act, with his portrayal of the Boys’ boss Willie Curry being ludicrous yet not unbelievable. James Allenby-Kirk’s Plooky Jack, a former inhabitant of the slab room who is now a designer, perhaps goes too far towards caricature but he is so funny in the role that this is easily forgiven.

Scott Fletcher and Katherine Howden. Photo: Tim Morozzo

Scott Fletcher and Katherine Howden. Photo: Tim Morozzo

Kathryn Howden’s tea lady Sadie seems to fill the stage whenever she is there, with another exquisitely judged combination of humour and pathos. Keira Lucchesi, who plays the Boys’ object of desire Lucille, is impressively dismissive and brassy while showing a hidden vulnerability that is not always evident in the character.

With so many of the cast managing to achieve the necessary sparkle and heightened realism, there are times when this production comes close to being an unqualified success. However, there are too many moments when it all fails to hang together.

Kieran Baker, as Alan, the student slumming it in the slab room, seems too diffident and underplayed to really fit in. While this is only a minor gripe, the depiction of Phil, the would-be artist who longs to break free from the slab room, is a more serious problem.

Sammy Hayman’s performance is a perfectly believable one, but he lacks the swagger others bring to their roles. Considering Phil has to be charming and more than a little dangerous, this is a drawback. He never quite achieves the hyper-real, superhuman gallusness necessary to keep the rhythm going, which causes some scenes to drag.

Despite this, the production features a great deal of exquisite comic timing and manages to build up a real head of steam. Hayman manages the more farcical moments expertly, using Byrne’s set cleverly. The set itself is another beautiful combination of realism and expressionism, and the way that characters often make entrances and exits by walking in front of the playing area is a neat touch that is not overused.

Nagging doubts aside, this is a largely compelling production of a much-loved play and can be counted as a great success in many ways.

Running time 2 hours 40 mins including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Run ends Saturday 14 March 2015
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30 pm
Tickets from


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