Rediscovering the Slab Boys and Girls: Inspiring John Byrne’s Iconic Play

From a carpet manufacturer’s factory floor to Broadway and Hollywood’s bright lights, the tale of the Slab Boys and Girls is a journey of inspiration and creativity. Renowned Scottish playwright John Byrne found the spark for his masterpiece in the small paint mixing room of a Paisley carpet factory, where he worked as a teenager alongside a group of young, working-class Scots.

The Slab Boys Trilogy, a collection of three plays, captures the essence of life from 1957 to 1972 in the slab room of a fictional carpet manufacturer, inspired by the real Stoddard’s carpet factory in Elderslie. Jim Rafferty, one of the original Slab Boys, recalls how his friendship with John Byrne led to the birth of the iconic play that resonates universally.

Slab Boys and Girls filming at the Secret Collection
Slab Boys and Girls filming at the Secret Collection

Recently, some of the former slab boys and girls reunited at Paisley’s Secret Collection to reminisce about their experiences. Objects like carpets designed by Stoddard’s, the original play set design, and a painting titled “Paisley Sunset” by Byrne will soon be displayed at the town’s museum, which is undergoing a massive £45 million refurbishment.

OneRen – the charity which will operate the museum on behalf of Renfrewshire Council – has worked tirelessly to recreate the essence of the factory in 1957 that fuelled Byrne’s creativity. Ruth Aitken, a creative worker involved in the project, cherishes the brilliant and hilarious stories shared by the original slab boys and girls, which formed the heart of the play’s humour.

Slab Boys Play Set Model

Bill Brown, another slab boy, praises John Byrne’s exceptional talent in creating characters and producing a remarkable work of comedy. The play’s humour finds its roots in the factory’s mundane tasks, where the workers, like Jean Scaglione, were full of ideas and jokes.

Byrne’s semi-autobiographical work reflects his upbringing in Ferguslie Park, close to the factory. Unlike the play’s protagonist, Phil McCann, Byrne successfully pursued art school after leaving the factory, ultimately achieving international acclaim.

The Slab Boys premiered in 1978 and went on to conquer Broadway in 1983, with stars like Sean Penn, Robbie Coltrane, and Kevin Bacon portraying the beloved characters. A film adaptation followed in 1997, with a stellar cast.

The impact of the group, self-named the Slabbies or the Stoddardistas, is recognised with an anonymous donation to support the museum’s fundraising appeal. Despite living across the world, the Slabbies maintain their connections through emails, keeping memories and laughs alive.

Alex Holmes, another slab boy, fondly recalls the vibrant factory life devoid of modern distractions, where John Byrne’s talent blossomed. From impromptu parties to adventures in Glasgow, the camaraderie of the Slab Boys and Girls shines through.

Paisley Sunset, John Byrne

As Paisley Museum reopens with its exciting refurbishment, visitors can immerse themselves in the world of the Slab Boys and Girls, reliving a time when creativity thrived amidst the paint and the laughter never ceased. John Byrne’s legacy lives on through his iconic plays and his vast body of artistic work, which will be featured in the museum for all to admire.

As we eagerly await the summer of 2024, the museum’s reopening will let you immerse yourself in the world of the Slab Boys and Girls. John Byrne’s legacy lives on, inspiring us with his iconic plays and artistic brilliance. Mark your calendars and explore this extraordinary masterpiece!

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