Cuttin' a Rug proves to be a tricky middle sibling
John Byrne's script is revisited for a woozy spin around the dance floor
It is Paisley Town Hall on a Friday night in 1957, and 'the loveliest night of the year'; the annual staff dance of A.F. Stobo & Co. carpet manufacturers. It is time for the factory employees to dust off their beetle crushers and Brylcreem and let their hair down – or rather, fight to keep it very neatly coiffed and firmly in place. Cuttin' a Rug is the second installment of John Byrne's now canonical Slab Boys Trilogy, and in Caroline Paterson's gallus and glamorous production it is the script that proves to be a tricky middle sibling.
Act one takes place in the ladies' and gents' cloakrooms, where dolled up employees compete for a spot in front of the mirror. Set a few hours after the end-of-day klaxon has rung in The Slab Boys, raucous teenage teddy-boys Phil McCann and Spanky Farrell have donned their finest jiving attire and are on the prowl for a dance-floor squeeze. The pair, enthusiastically portrayed by Ryan Fletcher and Paul-James Corrigan respectively, don't get very far with Helen Mallon's spiky Lucille and Louise McCarthy's brassy Bernadette. Whereas the decked out teens are just desperate for a winch and a glimpse at something better, it is Scott Fletcher's vulnerable and perennially downtrodden Hector who excellently portrays the frustrations of being the punch line to every joke.
There is no real tension or jeopardy in Byrne's plot, which loads a lot of weight on to very little action. Aside from some fumbles in power-cut blackouts and drawn out capers where characters chase promised dances and drinks, the focus of the play tends to wander in a tipsy daze. Towards the end of act two the production rediscovers its stride and as the jived-out teens look out from the balcony on Kenny Miller's elegant set there is a faint glimmer of optimism once again.
Citizens, Glasgow, until Sat 4 Mar; King's Theatre; Edinburgh, Tue 7–Sat 11 Mar.