by Tony Roper
with music by David Anderson
Performed at Church Hill Theatre, Morningside Road
Wednesday 21st - Saturday 24th May 2008
A tale of Love, Life, Laughter and Laundry...
It's Hogmanay in a Glasgow Steamie (public wash house) during the 1950s - time to make sure that everything is clean as ye cannae bring in the New Year tae a dirty hoose! As the washing is done, four women sing, laugh and cry their way through the last working day of the year, with a little help from the increasingly not so handy Andy!
Portraying a way of life in the midst of change, The Steamie is a hilarious cameo of Glasgow's social history where the washing was always easier to do when the women shared their laughter and sorrow and a scandalous supply of gossip! Over half a century on, the way we work may have changed, but the play still strikes a chord of recognition with people today.
Edinburgh Evening News - Thom Dibdin (Friday, 23rd May 2008) ****
Hot stuff and a washtub full of belly laughs
NOSTALGIA gets a comic twist up at the Church Hill Theatre this week as Edinburgh People's Theatre present a bright, bold and utterly hilarious new production of The Steamie. Set sometime in the late 1950s in Glasgow, Tony Roper's piece of classic modern comedy tells of four women who spend Hogmanay evening down in their local steamie. While it might be time to make sure everything is spick and span before the new year arrives, the four still have plenty of time to chat, gossip and laugh.
The key decision for getting this so right has been to lay the foundation of the piece on reality. From Steve Roberts' lifelike recreation of the stalls of a municipal steamie to the women's costumes and the old prams they cart their washing around in, this looks the part.
Soaring happily over any of the potent temptations to overact or turn nostalgia into mawkish sentimentality, director John Somerville has followed on from the late Alex Keith, who directed EPT's most recent production of The Steamie in 2003. He has given the cast free rein to create a set of believable and engaging characters.
Having done so, they deftly sidestep the play's other strong temptation – to play it solely for laughs. By reinstating David Anderson's rarely-performed original songs under Anne Mackenzie's light musical direction, they are able to step outside the main action and give the whole piece an edge of social comment. The show-stealing star of the whole piece has to be Sheila Somerville, who plays the slightly batty older woman, Dolly. A diminutive motor-mouth, she's forever disturbing everyone else with the latest piece of gossip and is the centre of any piece of frivolity.
Youngest of the four is Doreen, who Mairi Beaver makes a real dreamer – not just in the way she hopes for a time when women are no longer tied to the drudgery of housework, but through every aspect of her performance. She is excellent, from her sharp-toned singing to the expression on her face as she gratefully puts her feet into a bucket of warm water.
Mandy Black puts in a solid performance as Magrit, a woman who knows how to be ferocious when she needs to be – especially when standing up for her pals against the steamie's janitor, Andy (Ronnie Millar), who is half intent on enforcing the rules and half intent on having a wee dram.
Joan Hunter convinces as Mrs Culfeathers, a very old body who is not too long for this world but who still has to take in washing to make ends meet.
The result is a cast who work together to create ensemble theatre of a quality that would make a professional company proud. Far and away the most entertaining thing on an Edinburgh stage this week.