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Archive for April 28th, 2008

Nova Scotia – Slab Boys 4

I never know if it is fair to comment on a preview performance, but as long as it is clear that it is a preview, then I think it is probably OK.

This was the first preview – the first time the long-awaited new part of the Slab Boys Trilogy had ever been seen in public.    The Traverse was absolutely jam packed.    Outgoing Traverse Director Philip Howard and new incoming director Domenic Hill were both there in the audience – a good sign.  

And, yes, even in preview, there was a real sense of an event.    The Slab Boys is a much-loved modern classic of the Scottish Theatre, all three plays starting off in the Traverse from 1978.      The theatre put on the whole trilogy in 2003, when we went to see all three in one very enjoyable and exhausting day.    I did not see any of the original productions, but Dundee Rep put them on in the 1980s, where Cuttin a Rug memorably starred Robert Carlisle, Forbes Masson and Alan Cumming.

So, Nova Scotia brings back Phil, Spanky and Lucille all these years on.    The action is set in a house in rural north-east of Scotland – not a million miles from  where Byrne lives now.    Phil is still painting away quietly and has a rocky marriage to the younger Deidre, a video artist shortlisted for the Turner Prize.     Spanky  (now past-it but still performing rock star) rolls up with  Lucille.    I am not going to spoil the story, because there are fantastic unexpected twists and turns.   But throw in a hippy Radio Scotland Arts reporter, a video technican who is covering Spanky’s band – and clearly involved with Deidre, and the mixture really ignites.     Great performances all round – the boys:  Paul Morrow as Phil and Gerry Mulgrew as Spanky and the girls:   Gerda Stevenson as a glamorous Lucille, Meg Fraser as Deidre and Cara Kelly as the Radio Arts person.

The piece itself is amusing, knock-about yet wistful, and Byrne has a large amount of fun with it.   It is a study of friendships over the years and has lots to say about art, ambition and relationships.     There are some genuinely passionate arguments – ones that stay with you after you have left the theatre.    The world around Phil McCann has moved on –  everyone uses mobile phones, yet McCann firmly relies on the wall mounted landline phone in his house.    He has to learn to embrace the New Scotland, Nova Scotia, as all the others in the play have done.   The writing is sharp as ever, and although the pace flagged at points in the longer 2nd half, it held together well, and is a very worthwhile addition to the original Trilogy.    It does stand alone as a play, but those who have seen the others will get most out of it.   

Michael Taylor has come up with an atmospheric set, and like his design for All my Sons at the Lyceum, has real grass – except this time it comes with more foliage, and kids toys, including a spacehopper.  

As with all new writing at the Traverse, the script is on sale, but it is also worthwhile buying a programme too which has stuff from the original Slab Boys, as well as artwork from Byrne and a comprehensive piece from theatre critic and Byrne enthusiast Joyce McMillan.      

Recommended, and may be hard to get tickets for.    Runs to 24th May.    And don’t forget, Lucille was once ‘every Slab Boy’s dream’.    Is she still?    You have to wait until the very end to find out.     Sparky stuff.

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