Cuttin' A Rug, The Traverse, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

"The Loveliest Night of the Year". So ran the title of this second instalment of the Slab Boys trilogy when the play first opened in 1979. One can almost picture the legend swagged across Paisley Town Hall as the desperately anticipated AF Stobo Carpet Factory staff dance swings into action. But as the Traverse's turbo-charged "loveliest night" dances relentlessly to its climax, it's not just the guests who are staggering about amidst the spilt drinks and the power cuts, but the spectre of crushed dreams.

"The Loveliest Night of the Year". So ran the title of this second instalment of the Slab Boys trilogy when the play first opened in 1979. One can almost picture the legend swagged across Paisley Town Hall as the desperately anticipated AF Stobo Carpet Factory staff dance swings into action. But as the Traverse's turbo-charged "loveliest night" dances relentlessly to its climax, it's not just the guests who are staggering about amidst the spilt drinks and the power cuts, but the spectre of crushed dreams.

Appropriately, irreverently, the action opens in the ladies' and gents' toilets "on a Friday evening in 1957" before relocating to a balcony overlooking the council cemetery. "I don't want to end up across there" blurts boozed-up Slab Boy Spanky, metaphorically echoing the desires of a post-war generation who found themselves at the crossroads between a new world of art schools and rock'n'roll and the safe old world of the likes of AF Stobo, desperate to keep them "in their place".

In hired suits and greased-back hair, the Slab Boys pose and preen in front of the mirror. It's the same situation in the ladies' as "best friends", bolshy Bernadette and no-holds barred Lucille, played by excellent duo Dawn Steele and Molly Innes, start an escalating game of one-upmanship that trades off Grant O'Rourke's defensive university man Alan against John Kazek's hilarious Elvis-obsessed Terry. And on the knife's edge between success and failure, who's to care if Alan Tripney's vulnerable outsider Hector is trampled underfoot?

Forty-something spinster Miss Walkinshaw, from the "posh side" of town, is easy bait to Una MacLean's out-of-sorts Sadie. Tea-lady by day, footsore Carmen Miranda by night.

Neil Warmington's impersonal town hall toilets, spliced together by a central row of washbasins, are the Everyman of soulless conveniences up and down the country, Formica fittings shoehorned into cavernous Victorian anterooms. It's a coldly realistic recreation but for the Paisley swirl of grime that reflects the real/surreal interplay of Byrne's work. Using this trademark pattern is an obvious device, but then a good deal of Byrne's humour is based on anticipation, even if the speed with which Philip Howard directs the play gives the brain only a few moments to register before the punchline is delivered.

But it's not just the fast-lane speed that fudges the subtleties of this structurally tricky play. There's a bittiness to the division of space that interrupts the flow, negatively impacting on Byrne's sometimes over-baked use of asides and split-level action. With the lighting switching constantly between the gents' and ladies' and some over-choreographed freeze-frames, the production minimises cross-stage interplay.

The interwoven conversations of the first act become discreet tit-bits that discourage engagement with on-stage action. It's a flatness that becomes more evident after the interval, despite an ever-increasing dark edge to this "loveliest night".

To 24 Jan (0131 228 1404)

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