Tony Roper’s play is the star of this personality-packed show, and the sell-out audience at Brunton hangs on to every word.
The Steamie, Tony Roper’s hilarious play about four women gossiping in a 1950’s Glasgow wash house, still proves to be a great night out for the girls nearly thirty years after its premier back in 1987. Looking round the auditorium, the women outnumber the men by a factor of about ten to one, and the party atmosphere they are generating feels more like a hen-night than an evening at the theatre. This is a very good start.
A radio announcer tells us this is Hogmanay 1956, the music starts and the four women enter from different areas of the auditorium amid swirling spotlights, shouting and waving to the audience, as they make their way to the stage. Dressed in overalls, headscarves and curlers, they dance a few reels and have a bit of a knees-up to rousing old tunes like Bonnie Wee Jeannie McColl and Auntie Mary Had a Canary. From the 20-somethings to the 80-somethings, the audience were clapping in time and singing along from the get-go.
In fact, despite (or maybe helped by) the terrifically strong cast, the audience played a bit part in the enjoyment of this evening’s memorable entertainment. The Steamie has been a firm Scottish favourite for many years and most of the audience had clearly seen it before and knew what was coming. At times this felt more like a sketch-show, with each of the - almost iconic – exchanges, like that about Mrs. Culfeathers’ Galloway’s sausages, being met with loud applause and screams of laughter. Three women in their 70’s sitting in front of me passed each other hankies as they cried into them, shoulders heaving with laughter.
And this is a large part of the joy of this play: there were clearly women of a certain age for whom this resonated on a personal level and then there were those who just appreciated the immediately recognisable character-types, their cynical, sharp wit or hilarious, bonkers naivety. All recognised the sheer hard graft of these women’s daily lives, before the introduction of the various labour-saving devices we take for granted today. Most will also acknowledge the declining sense of community and the increasingly fewer opportunities for social exchange that accompanied the urban clearances and the quest for a better quality of life.
It wouldn’t be fair to single out any one performance in this tight team effort, as Alice T. Rhind, Kirsten McClelland, Deborah Anderson, Yvonne Paterson and token male Adrian MacDonald, all played their moment in the spotlight to maximum effect. And with original cast member and Scottish favourite, Dorothy Paul, retiring this year after 60 years in the business, it looks as though this other Scottish favourite could be setting out to match her!
Runs 27th & 28th March