The Slab Boys is set in the Slab Room of A. F. Stobo & Co. Carpet Manufactures. This story focuses on a handful of young people who have to grow up fast in the tough working-class culture of 1950s industrial Scotland. It is a semi autobiographical work. The play is set in 1957, the year Byrne worked in Stoddard's carpet factory as a slab boy, and the year Byrne applied to Glasgow Art School. In 1958 he was accepted to the Art School, unlike the character Phil McCann, whose application was refused. He described the factory as a ‘technicolour hell hole’. Byrne was raised in Ferguslie Park, Paisley not far from the carpet factory.
The opening scene introduces the three incumbent slab boys bantering away on a Friday morning. Phil and Spanky are the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid of the slab room and Hector is the target and source of most of their humour. Enter, Mr. Curry, the boss, who is always trying to shame Phil and Spanky into doing some actual work. Unfortunately, Phil and Spanky are far too clever to fall for that old ruse. In comes Jack Hogg. He used to be a slab boy, but has come up in the world and is now a designer. This is not as grand as it sounds – he is only one step further up the ladder and Phil and Spanky never let him forget it. Jack brings with him Alan Downie – an obviously better off youngster whose father knows the boss, and who is going to work in the company for a while before going off to University. This does not endear him to Phil or Spanky.
Once some of the early hilarity subsides, we learn that Phil's mother has been yet-again incarcerated in a ward for the mentally unstable. We also find out the real reason for Phil being late this morning: he was presenting his portfolio at the Glasgow School of Art. He is now waiting on a phone call that will tell him how he got on.
Eventually, Sadie, the world-weary tea-lady, wanders in. She is wise to Phil and Spanky, but is charmed by Alan's superior manners. Sadie is also selling tickets for the Staff Dance that takes place that night. To everyone's amazement Hector buys two, and reveals that his mystery date is Lucille – a beautiful young woman who clearly has herself set on someone better looking, and probably more importantly, richer, than Hector.
Finally, in strolls Lucille. Phil and Spanky badger her for details about Hector's courtship and it transpires that it is only in Hector's fantasy-world that she is going with him. The two turn on Hector but end up feeling rather sorry for him and resolve to help him win the fair dame. How they do this is by crudely tailoring his already crudely tailored clothing and attempting to give him a haircut but succeed only in injuring his scalp with the scissors.
After the lunch-break (which provides the interval in the play), the Slab Boys re-assemble. Lucille appears and Phil starts to broach the subject of Hector – he's going to ask Lucille out on Hector's behalf. Before he can reach the punch line, Hector's bloodied face appears at the window and terrifies her. They are hiding him while his clothes are being "altered". There thus ensues some typical farce as Hector is hidden during various walk-ons by Jack, Lucille and Mr. Curry.
Sadie re-appears for the afternoon tea-break and bemoans her useless husband. It appears that, following a recent mastectomy, he even threw out her prosthetic breast, believing it to be a burst football. She advises Lucille to avoid men and the trouble they cause.
At last Phil gets round to asking Lucille about the Staffie. Thinking he is asking on his own behalf, she agrees to go with him. Phil points out he was actually asking on the behalf of Hector. Lucille bluntly refuses.
The wages come round while Phil is out and Spanky is perturbed to find that Phil's and Hector's are missing – they will come round later having been specially made up. This suggests that they are going to be sacked. This is indeed the case for Phil, but then Hector comes in looking rather shocked and Phil and Spanky assume he has also been sacked. However, to their surprise, is actually getting promoted to the design room.
Alan then enters and delivers Phil another piece of bad news. He has just taken a phone call for Phil, and curtly tells him that he did not get in to the Art School. While he is digesting this a note arrives that his mother, who had briefly escaped from the asylum, is back in custody. Finally, Curry appears. Phil blows off at him over the sacking but Curry retorts that he actually stood up for Phil.
Spanky knuckles under and gets back to grinding the paste as Phil, all his hopes gone, leaves the stage.
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