Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Great one-liners and banter between the unlikely lads at Eager Beaver Cleaners, forced have to mop the parts that other cleaners fear and dread in one of Glasgow’s less salubrious housing schemes. And watch out for those wonderful uniforms.
Glasgow’s housing schemes can be pretty dirty places. Run down and uncared for, councils face a losing battle to maintain even a semblance of order and cleanliness. So they’ve outsourced it to misfits like The Eager Beaver Cleaners. And it would be hard to imagine four more unlikely cleaners than the lads we meet one dull, grey morning. Jock is charge of the team, nominally. Crawford’s more interested in where his next drink is coming from. Boab has a more carnal outlook on life. And Brian is, like many actors down on their luck, is just doing the job to pay the rent until something better comes along – like a part in a decent play for instance.
That sets the scene for an hour of laddish banter and badinage, spiced up by the occasional visit from their harridan of a supervisor, sundry interjections from residents providing suggestions as to what the boys can do with their dirty water and the fitful efforts of Brian to ask Rachel, who works in their favourite watering hole, out on a date. So far, so familiar, you might say.
But there’s something a little bit different about this piece. For a start, there’s a lot of very carefully crafted Glasgow patois that hits the humour spot time and again. Great one-liners, couplets, those rat-a-tat exchanges that you get between people who work and drink together and the sight of the quartet appearing half way through the show in their new company uniform of full beaver outfit complete with hi-viz jackets said it all.
And yet the play goes deeper than that. Writer John Stuart makes a valid attempt to address the fact that those working in low grade, menial jobs are often vulnerable to exploitation and ridicule. Our quartet get that in spades, from their supervisor through to their uniforms and in virtually every interaction they have with those mess they are dealing with. As in real life, that strengthens the bond between our unlikely foursome. The denouement was nicely crafted, even though the piece fizzled out like a cigarette forgotten by a smoker, but that was the intention, Stuart’s way of saying that life can sometimes be like that.
Strong performances from John Stuart himself as Jock, Phillip Toop as Brian and Jennifer McErlane as Rachel (and others) masked the more stilted and overly caricatured contributions from the rest of the cast and the beaver costumes made up for some fairly amateurish props that were a distraction – better to mime than use things that are obviously not fit for purpose.
But this is being picky, and I’m a mere critic. I didn’t have to go round persuading sponsors to back the show, hold coffee mornings and sponsored events to raise the cost of hiring the venue, get a graphic designer to produce a very professional looking programme (for free), persuade all those taking part to do it for love not money and the hundred-and-one other things that need to be done to turn a dream into reality. Hats off, then, to John Stuart and his team for doing just that.