The front of house staff are in swirling Fifties dresses with petticoats, and there’s a rock’n’roll band playing up a storm in the foyer; yup, it must be time for the second instalment of the Citizens’ slow-burning revival of John Byrne’s great Slab Boys trilogy. And things look good, as Caroline Paterson opens her production of Cuttin’ A Rug – set at Stobo’s annual Christmas dance in Paisley Town Hall – with an atmospheric glimpse of old newsreels and movies.
The year is 1957, the affluent society is on the horizon, and Bernadette, the dispatch-room lovely, will not have to rely on parcels from America for much longer, when it comes to glamorous clothes.
Cuttin’ A Rug ****
Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow
Made In India ****
Tron Theatre, Glasgow,
Yet materialism isn’t providing a complete answer to the yearning discontent that drives the show’s aspiring artist hero, Phil McCann; which is why John Byrne writes not in prose but in poetry, developing and stylising Paisley working-class banter into a wonderful, baroque pattern of jest and allusion, longing, bathos and hilarity.
And still, 38 years on from this play’s Traverse premiere, it’s this leap from prose into poetry that fails to materialise in too many productions, partly including this one. Here, the short first half struggles to find any rhythm at all, as characters rush to and fro in front of the imaginary mirrors in the Town Hall toilets, often gabbling away priceless lines in a pseudo-naturalistic rush.
Things improve after the interval, in the more spacious surroundings of the Town Hall balcony; Louise McCarthy, as Bernadette, hits the right note from the start, relishing every line like a Causewayside Street diva. None of three leading characters, though - Ryan Fletcher’s Phil, Paul-James Corrigan’s Spanky, or Helen Mallon’s Lucille - seem quite so comfortable with the mighty roll and punch of Byrne’s dialogue; not, at least, until those final magic moments when Phil and Spanky begin to look out from the balcony towards their possible futures. “You’re 19 years old with a wardrobe full of clothes,’ says Phil. “You’ve got everything to live for.” His voice, though, is full of irony; in a production that ends by offering us a tantalising glimpse of greatness, still just beyond its reach. There’s also a huge, unfulfilled yearning at the core of Tamasha Theatre’s new touring production, Made In India. The play tells the story of Eva, a British woman who is desperate to find a surrogate who will bear a biological child for herself and her late husband, and meets her match at the Calcutta clinic of Dr. Gupta.
Satinder Chohan’s play is perhaps trying to tackle a vastly complex situation in slightly too short a format; it lasts barely 80 minutes, and also features some powerful, driving dance sequences, on Lydia Denno’s rich red-and-gold set. Yet Katie Posner’s production makes a bold and memorable effort to set out the fundamental issues raised by the surrogate business; and it’s perhaps revealing that while we are used to the commodification of women’s bodies by men, the sight of a woman attempting the same thing, to meet her own needs, seem to throw the whole subject into such painful high relief.
*Cuttin’ A Rug at the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, until 4 March, and at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, 7-11 March. Made In India, run ended