Steady yourself for a trip back in time to late 1950s Paisley and prepare to be caught up in a wash of Post-War nostalgia. Because that’s what you get in Cuttin’ a Rug, the second part of John Byrne’s Slab Boys Trilogy, presented by the Citizens’ Theatre Company. Please don’t be dissuaded by the fact that this is the second instalment – coming at the characters totally anew won’t give you any less of an unmissable experience.
Caroline Patterson’s direction is highly stylised and animated by EJ Boyle’s brilliant movement sequences. The play builds towards a turbulent and emotive finale, guaranteed to take the audience by surprise. Thanks to a darkly Scottish sense of humour, any feelings of unease at the pathos of the ending are dispelled and the unlikely hilarity of the moment is played up to its fullest. Such a feat wouldn’t be possible without an immensely talented cast, populated by Scottish acting favourites and emerging talent alike.
The period in which the play unfolds is an interesting one for Scotland; twelve years on from the end of the war, the characters still rely on rations and any form of escape, though fiercely desirable, is not possible. One character, Phil (portrayed with angst and vivacity by the exceptional Ryan Fletcher) loses his job in the local carpet factory and is rejected by art school. It appears he is being punished for daring to dream, and this theme is explored throughout the play. Many of the characters are bolstered by a culture that arrives in Scotland from across the Atlantic, but it has given them false hope that transcending their current situation is possible.
The set and costumes, designed by Kenny Miller, expertly reflect the drab period in which the characters live: everything is a black, white, or grey monotone. The surroundings are eerily oppressive but there are pops of colour all over, from the make-up and adornments on the ladies’ faces to the technicolour socks which peek out from just below the gents’ trouser legs. This gives us a sense that the 1960s will make good on its promise of bringing something altogether more vibrant to their lives.
All in all, the full potential of the play is incredibly well realised. Punctuated with music from the era and nostalgic video design by Ryan Alexander Dewar, the story flows brilliantly from the bathroom of Paisley Town Hall to the balcony of that same building – and it strikes the right balance between celebrating the fervour of youth and confronting the audience with moments of real solemnity.
With increasing austerity and no end in sight, the play is as relevant today as it is to the period in which it is set. As you leave you can’t help thinking that, whether it’s 1957 or 2017, being young doesn’t get any easier!
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow (£12.50-£22.50)
Produced by Citizens Theatre Company
Written by John Byrne
Directed by Caroline Patterson
Words: Paul Copland