Theatre Review: Nova Scotia, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

30 Apr

Nova Scotia

It’s been 26 years since the final part of John Byrne’s The Slab Boys trilogy graced the Traverse stage and left audiences wondering about the fate of the notorious Paisley boys.

Now in his late 60s, Byrne’s newest addition to the yarn, Nova Scotia, finds some familiar faces also in their 60s as themes of ambition, unfinished business and making your mark amongst a new generation evolve as his characters finally come of age.

As the story unfolds in Scottish artist Phil McCann’s (Paul Morrow) secluded garden in North East Scotland, we are also reunited with two of the trilogy’s other main characters: Spanky (Gerry Mulgrew) and Lucille (Gerda Stevenson).

However, the idyllic haven quickly erupts into a parlour of chaos when the arrival of film maker Corky Doyle (Nicholas Karimi) brings politics between Phil and his promiscuous, Turner Prize nominated wife Didi (Meg Fraser) to a head.

If this wasn’t enough, Corky’s music video also features the band of estranged friend and fellow slab boy Spanky who recently remarried Phil’s old flame Lucille. Soon reunions and revelations begin to ricochet as Byrne adds another iconic chapter to the lives of the even more iconic Slab Boys.

Nova ScotiaTaking place against Michael Taylor’s grassy set surrounded by trees, ivy clad masonry and the odd space hopper, director Paddy Cunneen’s production seems a world away from the paint splattered studio where the story began. That said, minus the extra years and the odd career change, there is little to discern the older Phil and Spanky from their 1978 counterparts.

Morrow’s grouchy McCann makes for the ideal, juxtapositional accompaniment to Mulgrew’s chipper, chin-wagging Spanky that boasts a Billy Connolly-esque quality. Meanwhile the only non-midriff flashing female, Stevenson, captures a host of raunchy undertones that are deftly balanced in equal measure to the maternal ‘Weegie wifey’ as she runs around after Spanky as if he were a two year old.

While a knowledge of the trilogy is useful but not essential, Nova Scotia does lack the youthful zest that delivered much of the punch in previous instalments. Even so you can’t help but feel that, out of the four, this is the play that reflects Byrne’s inner musings on perhaps the most unintentionally personal level.

Debating the quality of new art in Britain whilst swapping class struggle for struggles with new technology, the line “old age: die or wake up” could easily be believed to be Byrne’s own creative philosophy; making the play not only for those who have waited avidly to see it but also proving that Slab Boys, and Byrne, hold their own on the 21st century Scottish stage.

Review by Mhairi MacLeod

Nova Scotia runs until Saturday 24 May. Visit the Traverse website for full details.

Images copyright Richard Campbell

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