EDINBURGH | GLASGOW | ABERDEEN | INVERNESS | DUNDEE | PERTH

The Steamie

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A Scottish favourite hilarious comedy-drama about four working class heroines in a public wash house on Hogmanay eve.

Image of The Steamie
Photo: Sam McNab

@ Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, until Fri 9 Oct 2015

On the evening of 8th of October, The Brunton is an uncommon sight. If a casual passer-by happened to pop in, they would be struck by the conspicuously festive atmosphere spreading all over the venue, resembling a party night out more than the usual evening at the theatre. The auditorium is filled with the overexcited chatting and giggling of the predominantly female audience members of all ages who are visibly overwhelmed with unrepressed anticipation. The reason for the euphoria is no other than The Steamie, Tony Roper‘s hilarious play about four women gossiping in a 1950s Glasgow wash house.

Being a Scottish favourite since its first performance in 1987, The Steamie gained additional popularity with the 1988 television version. Now, almost thirty years later, the comedy-drama, directed by Andy Corelli, still agitates and moves the spirits with its four main characters of various ages and personalities, who are doing their washing on the Hogmanay eve of 1956 while sharing their memories and hopes for the future, talking about their neighbours and families and telling jokes.

Despite the fact that nothing much actually happens on the stage, the play bursts with humorous situations, memorable dialogue, a wee bit of singing and a couple of dances. Above all, it evokes a feeling of nostalgia for the far-off community spirit of mid-twentieth century Glasgow, before the impending modernisation of everyday life through various labour-saving devices and the consequent decline in opportunities for social exchange.

That nostalgic feel seems to resonate particularly well with the female audience in the auditorium, some of whom have personally experienced the harsh life of the post-war Glaswegian housewives, while others recognise the harsh graft of their working-class mothers or grannies. The sense of (self-)recognition with the four heroines is reinforced by the terrific cast.  Dressed in overalls, headscarves and curlers, Quirky Pond‘s Alice T. Rhind, Kirsten McClelland, Deborah Anderson, Yvonne Paterson (and also token man Adrian MacDonald) all build easily recognisable characters of strong individuality, who are captivating in their peculiarities and vernacular. As an ensemble they are even stronger, interacting with each other as an impeccable organic whole.

A fair share of the performance’s success should definitely go the audience. The predominant part of them are familiar with the text and know what is coming, as they meet particular sketches (like Mrs. Culfeather’s anecdote about Galloway’s mince) with loud applauses and shrieks of laughter, completely tearing down the theatre’s fourth wall.

No wonder that this much loved play still evokes such strong emotions and its every staging is celebrated as a festive occasion.