The regular beats of laughter that erupted during the King’s Theatre performance of the second instalment, Cuttin’ a Rug, undoubtedly prove that the Slab Boys Trilogy has earned a justified spot in Scottish theatrical history, yet there is something slightly lost in this adaptation. Having premiered at the Traverse Theatre in 1978, the play had a meteoric rise to cultural recognition in its poignant portrayal about working class in Scotland in the mid-twentieth century and is now taught in Scottish secondary schools.
The play takes place in Paisley in the 1950s, a coming-of-age drama focused on the stifled aspirations of a group of youngsters. It entangles post-war Scottish culture into a farce, and this is clear from the frantic delivery of banter on stage, as well as the repetitive and fast-paced movement on- and off-stage.
The cast beautifully caricature their parts: Louise McCarthy and Helen Mallon playing Bernadette and Lucille respectively depict a hilarious battle for status and male attention; Scott Fletcher, the weak, love-stricken Hector, on a relentless hunt for Lucille’s affection;
Duo Paul-James Corrigan and Ryan Fletcher as both Spanky and Phil respectively, the heroes of the play, are exceptional with their witty patter that exudes good chemistry; they’re able to switch seamlessly into the more poignant moments, like the frustrations of the future, their aspirations and their dreams. Both Mark Barrett and Shaun Miller playing Terry and Alan respectively are talented, the former having perfected an Elvis impression should he wish to go into that line of work. The characters Willie Curry (Laurie Ventry), Sadie (Barbara Rafferty), and Miss Walkinshaw (Anne Lacey) were also funny, but seemed to strum on the heartstrings of the older audience members, wasted on my own immature head. Their presence on stage often seemed to dwindle the importance of the younger characters, which is a testament to the actors themselves, yet textually was an odd choice.
The director of this adaptation, Caroline Paterson, claims ‘it’s a play about young people…and it’s written in a way that I think is still relevant now,’ and ventures to state that ‘younger audience who might not know [the plays] can come and see Cuttin’ a Rug and totally get it.’ Yet there is certainly some confusion in this statement, for as I look down the endless rows in front of me I’m obstructed by a sea of elderly folk, where the entire audience demographic seems to be over fifty.
The performance is strong, undoubtedly. Each member of the cast is memorable, with all their performances punctuated by audience laughter. The stage design is perhaps a bit flawed due to the ceiling obstruction for those of us in the gods, but nevertheless, it is tidy and appropriate. The scene transitions and the tech design are both slick, seamless, and well-rehearsed. Despite this, however, we have a play inherently designed for young people but failing to grasp them. Where are the youths? Perhaps they’re offended by the ticket prices, yet it is shame that a play so intrinsically defined by young people is completely absent of them audience-wise.
Thus, the jokes are washed away, half of the time too abrasive for the minority of the modern iPhone-embracing, selfie-taking audience, the rest of the time too drowned out in a cacophony of Scots dialect (perhaps the problem there lies with the *Welsh* reviewer). It certainly epitomises the play that most of the audience are far too old for their roles, as we forget that we’re focused on teenagers. Instead, the show is played almost entirely for comedy (which, in fairness, is generally successful) but we’ve lost some of the poignancy and intimacy; there is no doubt that the banter between this group is well-timed and clearly the cast have great chemistry, but it overshadows and blinds the audience from the melancholy struggles of mid-twentieth-century Scottish culture.
Guest Reviewer: Luke Morley
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