John Byrne’s Slab Boys trilogy focuses intently on the lives of a few characters from the slab room and design room of a local carpet manufacturer in Glasgow. Cuttin’ A Rug, the second in the series, concentrates on their annual staff party and the farce that ensues.
Familiar to anyone who has ever gotten too drunk at a work do, the setting begins in the men’s and women’s cloakrooms, flitting between the two to set up the characters and their relationships. The classic Scottish phrases and accents felt incredibly comfortable, but no doubt a little alienating for those from further afield.
As the banter between characters runs the gambit from banal to snide, there was plenty of time to admire the focus on costuming and contrastingly spare but effective stage design. The entirety of the first act is set in the cloakrooms, allowing the audience to appreciate the care that had gone into the design of every costume.
The innuendo, back and forth, and highlighting of inner dialogue within the play builds up a comedic and farcical atmosphere which brings a new dimension to the stereotypically Shakespearean of genre styles, but it is constantly undercut with abrupt switches to discussion of real and difficult social issues.
In amongst the fantastically awful Elvis impression, the mistaken relationships, the drunkenness and slitterin’, is an incisive commentary on Scotland’s continuing problem of class divide, mental ill health and physical ill health.
While the actors’ performances were of incredibly high quality, and the choreography along with stage design were sublime, the production’s niggling downside was the specificity of the setting. Sadly, 1950s working-class Scotland, despite the humour and poignancy of Cuttin’ A Rug’s approach, is only accessible to a very small portion of the population. That is not to say it doesn’t have its place in the theatre, particularly in Scottish theatre, but it simply stands as a warning to do your reading on the Slab Boys before you enjoy the show.
Cuttin’ A Rug runs from 8 February to 5 March at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. Tickets cost between £12.50 – £22.50 and can be purchased at http://www.citz.co.uk/whatson/info/cuttin_a_rug/