Cuttin’ a Rug review at Citizens Theatre, Glasgow – ‘hilarious, but heartless’
The Slab Boys trilogy by John Byrne holds an important place in Scottish theatre: loved for its portrayal of Paisley working-class life in the 1950s, it examines the frustrated aspirations of heroes Spanky and Phil without flinching at the more oppressive aspects of post-war Scottish culture.
The second piece, Cuttin’ a Rug, sees the duo at play, attending the annual carpet factory dance in Paisley. With a wide range of characters, from old boss Willie to loutish teddy-boys and their prospective love interests, Cuttin’ a Rug is torn between manic farce and the tragic underlay beneath the lives of the disenfranchised.
Caroline Paterson’s direction plays up the humour: the battle between Lucille (Helen Mallon) and Bernadette (Louise McCarthy) for status is cutting and hilarious, while Phil (Ryan Fletcher) and Spanky (Paul-James Corrigan) only occasionally reveal the pathos and thwarted ambition that drives their apparent delinquency. It’s a manic, frantic entertainment, barely pausing for the moments of drama: a suicide attempt, a vicious beating and Miss Walkinshaw’s unfolding breakdown are played for laughs.
Aside from many of the cast being too old for their roles – it’s difficult to remember that the youth are supposed to all be teenagers – the emphasis on comedy undermines the text’s more sombre notes. Byrne’s play is rendered cruel and heartless, with the blood and despair fodder for mockery, and the excellent performances from the ensemble remaining caricatures. Cuttin’ a Rug is high octane entertainment, but the laughs obscure the viciousness of a world in transition.