Theatre Review: The Slab Boys

It might be the 70th anniversary celebrations of a much-loved Glasgow theatre, or the chance to catch a seminal Scottish piece in the flesh more than 35 years after it premiered.
Jamie Quinn as Spanky in rehearsals for The Slab Boys. Picture: Tim MorozzoJamie Quinn as Spanky in rehearsals for The Slab Boys. Picture: Tim Morozzo
Jamie Quinn as Spanky in rehearsals for The Slab Boys. Picture: Tim Morozzo

Whatever the reason, The Slab Boys revival at the Citz has been the talk of the steamie for weeks.

The anniversary season opened on the first in John Byrne’s celebrated trilogy last week, with audiences packing in to see a familiar set of faces — many young stage and screen stars on their way up — take to memory lane and teddy boy style.

With a swinging 50s band playing the lobby beforehand on Saturday night, it’s safe to say that the Citz are throwing their weight behind this production in particular — and when you catch a glimpse of writer/artist Byrne’s scrawled set design, that feeling of theatre magic about to happen remains.

The slab boys in question are Sammy Hayman as the swaggering Phil McCann, Jamie Quinn as his tittering sidekick and Scott Fletcher as the unfortunate Hector, the butt of many a joke.

Byrne’s farce-filled script crackles with wit and movement, turning mundane, everyday events into a day tinged with potential for the boys.

At the moment they’re lowest of the low, grinding paint in a cut-off corner of a Paisley carpet factory and thinking as far ahead as the staff dance that night — but there’s always a hint of promise underneath those brown paint coats, including Phil’s dreams of escaping to the art school.

Fletcher excels as the put-upon Hector; sweet and naïve but with great comedic timing, while Keira Lucchesi is well cast as everyone’s love interest; the slinky yet oh-so-Glasgow Lucille Bentley.

James Allenby-Kirk deserves a mention too for his turn as designer Plooky Jack Hogg — a man who could be sympathetic, if he wasn’t too busy puffing himself up at the expense of those below.

Senior members of the cast can be counted on throughout; director David Hayman as the commanding gaffer Willie Curry and Kathryn Howden as Sadie the tea lady — a relatively small role, but one which lights up the stage as Sadie provides motherly affection and scolding in equal measures to counter the playground games of the slab boys.

But the play hangs on the relationship between Phil and Spanky; partners in crime, they’re loveable rogues, caring one minute and cruel the next at the expense of everyone around them.

Quinn pulls it off with ease, but Hayman struggles at times to reach the brooding intensity required of art hopeful Phil.

The result is a great laugh of a show — Byrne’s banter galore perfectly capturing the west coast voice — but without quite reaching the heights one can imagine of the original.

Still, as a celebration of contemporary Scottish theatre and the Gorbals venue, and a love note to that west coast vernacular, audiences will rightly lap it up.

Catch The Slab Boys at the Citizens Theatre until March 7 (when it goes on tour) — for times and ticket info, visit The Citz website.