The Citizen’s revival of John Byrne’s Paisley-based play is a humorous tale of survival and determination. The eight strong cast, including Scott Fletcher as the eternal butt of the joke Hector and Jamie Quinn, who is simply outstanding as Spanky, ease their way through Byrne’s script with a beautiful fluidity, injecting new life into the story of the working class life of 1950s Scotland. Director David Hayman provides an excellent performance as the company boss Mr Curry whilst the playwright’s set design restricts the adolescent rages of the central characters to a single slab room, bottling their emotions until the point of explosion. The Slab Boys may lose some of its charm in this new production, but it presents itself as a way to introduce new generations of theatregoers to a dark, politically driven Scottish theatre environment.
It’s out with the provincial life of Russia and in with a Dunoon naval base in John Byrne’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s turn of the twentieth century tragi-comedy. Relocated to overlooking the River Clyde estuary, Chekhov’s frustrated sisters must watch the Clyde escape to the south whilst they remain firmly rooted in Scottish soil; their hopes and dreams finely held together by the prospect of returning to the bright lights of London.
As the eldest of three sisters Muireann Kelly’s Olive is an exhausted schoolteacher, affectionate towards those who inhabit her family home whilst privately regretting her spinster status. Jessica Hardwick’s Renee desperately yearns for her beautiful London whilst Sally Reid’s Maddy is sophisticated and sometimes passive, confined to an unhappy marriage and pouring out Brooke’s poetry of soldiers, death and England. Her joy in finding love with Andy Clark’s McShane is perhaps the most touching in the series of performances from the ten-strong cast. Louise McCarthy is suberb as the power-hungry Natasha from Wemyss Bay.
Byrne’s distinctive artistic style is present in the design from the asperous windows and leaf covered walls to his costume design, each character’s personality uniquely represented. His transition from 1900s Russia to 1960s Scotland is a successful one. The immediate sense of comedy is comforting but quickly diminishes to the overwhelming sadness of dashed hopes and failures in the sisters’ darkest hours. The final image of the sisters clinging together, vowing to live, work and learn whilst the soldiers depart is powerful and heartfelt.