THE SLAB BOYS coco
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, various dates until 24 Jan
Even when it was written 25 years ago, the eponymous first play of John Byrne’s classic Slab Boys trilogy must have had a nostalgic quality to it. Set in a Paisley textile factory in 1957, it marked the beginning of a new theatrical genre, the Scottish industrial work play. Coming on the eve of Thatcher’s election, there was something almost prophetic in Byrne’s fond, but unromantic, memories of a declining traditional industry. What he said for textiles would soon also be true of coal mining, steel making, ship building and engineering.
The poorly paid, semi-skilled and, in Byrne’s memory, consequently pretty indolent slab boys (or grinders of the colours for textile designs) are no relatives of Alan Bleasdale’s Boys from the Blackstuff. This, after all, is the 505, and Britain has not yet suffered its profound death of optimism. Despite the underlying bleakness, fag puffing teddy boys Phil and Spanky have a more swaggering, less bitter working-class humour than the 805 could ever have mustered.
The drama stands head and shoulders above the likes of Tony Roper’s The Steamie and Chris Rattray’s The Mill Lawies. It’s a fact to which Roxana Silbert’s production for the Traverse’s 40th anniversary is keenly attuned. Playing on Neil Warmington’s fabulous slab room set (all quasi- organised chaos and rusting metal), her presentation should be applauded for both its fine casting and its bold grasp of Byrne’s humour.
The comic writing is of a quality that most contemporary British sitcoms would kill for. When the dermatologically afflicted office boy Jack Hogg (John Kazek) proclaims that he has a ‘diploma in
wool technology’, the combination of pathos and mockery is hilarious. The sudden announcement of a ‘trunk call from Troon’ reminds one of a later gag, from Liz Lochhead’s Perfect Days, in which Glasgow’s newly-fashionable Merchant City is described as ‘the back of [old department store] Goldbergs’. Scotland may not be able to shake off its parochialism, but it certainly knows how to laugh at it.
The play is populated by figures who walk a carefully drawn line between fully-ﬂedged character and comic caricature. Playing such roles is more challenging than it may seem. Paul Thomas
Alan Tripney and Una McLean in John Byme’s deftly revived Scottish classic
Hickey and Iain Robertson do a fine double act as Phil and Spanky. The former, in particular, strikes a superb balance between cruel mischief, desperate aspiration and outright alienated rage. Elsewhere, Grant O’Rourke’s grammar boy Alan and the ever- professional Una McLean’s tremendous rendering of no-nonsense tea lady Sadie shine among a universally ﬁne cast.
Funnier than you might think after quarter of a century, more poignant and less saccharine than other plays of its kind, this a strong beginning to the Traverse’s presentation, over the coming weeks, of Byrne’s entire trilogy. (Mark Brown)
Edinburgh Playhouse, Mon 1-Sat 13 Dec
Ruthie Henshall: ‘Fosse’s greatest hits’
He choreographed some of the most famous high kicks in histOry. but when it came to kicking bad habits. Bob Fosse was a dead loss. Which is why. at the age of 60. his adulterous. workaholic. four-packs-a-day existence finally caught up with him. Standing outside a theatre in 1987. just minutes before curtain-up. Fosse collapsed and died. Rather prophetically. he expired in almost identical Circumstances to the lead character in his autobiographical film. All That Jazz. created eight years earlier. At a time when mLiSical theatre meant neat. symmetrical chorus lines and fancy sets. he came along and stripped it right back to baSICS. With Fosse. every lift of the eyebrow. every tviitch of the hip was important. ‘He was just
so inventive. and he really did change the look of dance in musmalsf says Fosse star. Ruthie Henshall. 'lt had been the same way for such a long time. and then suddenly he was putting in simple patterns. lots of tiny movements — and it was just so sexy}
Sex appeal was Fosse's trump card. At the age of 1:3. he choreographed a nightclub routine featuring scantily clad women and a few strategically placed feathers. From there. he xig-xagged between Broadway and Hollywood. until finally hitting the big time in 19:34 With The Pajama Game. Sweet Charity. DanCin'. Cabaret and of course Chicago followed. each of them dripping in sequins. fishnets and high heels. By the time he died. Fosse had garnered nine Tony Awards. an Emmy and an Oscar for choreograpliing. directing and producing.
Henshall made Chicago her own on the West End stage. and Fosse's incredible back catalogue looks like suiting her. Featuring some of his most famous numbers. Fosse the musical won three Tonys in 1999 when it opened on Broadway. and has since gone on to tour the world. 'If you love musicals you'll just love this.' says Henshall. ‘lt's Fosse's "Greatest Hits". a real romp through the life of the best choreographer that ever lived.' (Kelly Apterl
NEW COMMISSION . . . THE
DAWN OF THE 8TH DAY
Tramway, Glasgow, Thu 27-Sat 29 Nov
In a reassming instance of life imitating art. the preparations for. . . At the Dawn of the Eighth Day are proving as bizarre as the show itself. During an afternoon rehearsal break. which involved popping out to buy SIX cans of Tennent's and ten bags of sugar. and one actor busy Signing his name for a purpose too often associated with working thesps. Mark Traynor attempts to explain the concept behind his multimedia piece.
‘It's about people's perceptions of each other and every day events and how there are certain tasks. whether they‘re job or domestic related. that you have to do. and how the pressures of modern liVing can creep up on you and make it hard just to do those things.’
The performance space WI” be split in two to convey the premise: half the audience will see one actor performing his daily ‘to do' list against a projection of a filmed actor: the second half seeing the filmed actor appearing live. against the backdrop of the first actor. Turning the Bible's story of the world's creation on its head. the piece explores the last seven days of existence and how humans reconcile the control they exert on life with the influence of both random and exact independent factors.
Like the RSAMD graduate's 2002 degree show piece. You Can Leave at Any Moment. the show develops the idea of repetition; the actOrs' actions change slightly on successwe days. It was the concept of reCurrence which sparked the interest of Tramway producer Steve Slater and set the wheels in motion fer this Dark Lights commission.
Another strand to . . . At the Dawn's perceptive tapestry is suspension of belief: can people trust in something if they don't actually see it? Traynor. who is 23. wants the audience to be his Guinea pigs. ‘l'm just questioning what people's perceptions are at the moment. and I'll only really find Out what they are through the performance and hearing people's reactions.' (Maureen Ellis)
Doing it the hard way
27 Nov-l 1 Dec .9003 THE LIST 71