Aren’t Phil and Spanky, the central characters, really just bullies by today’s standards, and hasn’t the experience of being a man changed since the times when it was set and first performed?
Billy McColl, played Phil in the original Slab Boys, 1978 You had to get to the reality of it. These were hard men. who grew up in places like Ferguslie Park. They were brought up in a hard place. these boys. and if a guy like Phil had to use a bit of violence. he would.
Molly Innes, Lucille in 2003 It's an all-male environment in the Slab Room, and I'm not sure 19-year-old boys have changed as much as you think. I'm not suggesting 'all men are bastards'. but there‘s an element of that.
David Hayman, director of the original trilogy, 1978-82 Phil and Spanky are arrogant. brutal little shits who need a good smack. But these guys are just as fucked as everyone else. And they're certainly very vulnerable. Besides. Phil and Spanky are not so much bullies as gallus. to use an old Glaswegian term.
Philip Howard, artistic director of the Traverse, who directed Cutting a Rug, 2003 There's a huge. crushing insecurity in these boys' Showmanship. But the way they bully Hector is a kind of displacement activity. Remember. they've got nothing in their lives. any more than Hector has.
John Byrne, writer They're not wholly likeable at all. They have dark sides and flawed personalities. and Phil gets less and less likeable as time goes on. But they're not meant to be wholly admirable. then or now. But you do see a different kind of person when they're on their own.
Roxana Silbert, literary director of the Traverse, who directed The Slab Boys and Still Life, 2003 I asked John [Byrne] about this. and he said the relationship that Hector has with Phil and Spanky at least gives him a kind of identity. These boys are bored. there's nothing to do. so people tend to turn to this. The play doesn't really condemn it.
Is there an element of sexism in the plays, particularly in the way Lucille is treated by the male characters?
Innes Lucille is attracted to these boys. and maybe that has changed. Maybe women these days want men who are nice guys. not guys that behave that way. All the same. Lucille is attracted to Phil. and he is very creative. and attractive that way. She'd like not to be attracted to him. but she is. and surely that's a familiar feeling to a lot of people today. Lucille also has aspirations. She says to Sadie that she won't be treated the way Sadie is. she'll be in control. but is she?
Hayman She's just a cipher in the first play. to get the boys' juices running. and she's not much more in the second. But in the third play you really get her true colours. She really is a woman of broken dreams. and a fully fleshed character.
Howard Well. the spotty nerd who lusts after the pretty girl in the office isn't a historical thing, it's happening in the office next door to us.
But is the trilogy really just a nostalgia piece, a theatrical, more elaborate version of the US television series Happy Days?
Silbert The play has in it an inherent nostalgic quality. because John is writing about a group of 19-year-old boys. who were 19 when he was. But he wrote it when he was 35. This gives us a double perspective all the time. So you see the boys from their point of view when they‘re alone. but when another character like Curry comes on you see them from his point of view. as he tries to both discipline and nurture them. So there's always this double perspective. which stops the play from being too steeped in nostalgia.
Byrne I don't reckon I'm nostalgic. but there‘s a feeling for the times there. It was the period that made me.
Hayman There are great traditional values that have broken down in working class communities. and that community feeling might never be rekindled; I don't know if that's nostalgic. But there are disenfranchised youth today in dead-end jobs. heads up their own arseholes. and all they can see is their own shite. That sense of wasted youth is still with us.
Why put on The Slab Boys now, at a theatre whose normal remit is for new writing?
Howard I think it‘s helpful for writers. and ourselves. to take a look at the back catalogue. It's a fantastic prism for us to view the other things we‘re doing. In a way. it kind of flatters contemporary writers putting them in that bracket. Secondly. and perhaps this isn‘t a good reason. it's a kind of anniversary. and we don't do this often. But we feel we can do this for the audience. just once in a while. A lot of our work is writer-led. but surely just once we can send our audience to something that they already know will be good. rather than taking a chance on new writing. Thirdly. we're getting a new play from it. because John Byrne is currently writing a fourth part to the trilogy. which we'll see the script of next year.
Slab Boys is at the Traverse, Edinburgh from Wed 26 Nov
:,,.v 4,: (Mri=Irmﬂﬂ/WﬁIy/ﬂﬂ'W/Wmmw“hm/Wm,“ .i, l‘l ,' 13—27 NOV 2003 THE LIST 13 "it? ’ ~