Four women chat for two and a half hours while doing their washing? It’s not a plot that instantly strikes one as engaging. Yet as one of the pre-eminent classics of Scottish theatre, Tony Roper’s The Steamie – with songs by David Anderson - is so much fun exactly because of its premise: taking a deceptively simple situation and fashioning out of it a wonderfully whimsical experience.
It may be my first encounter with the show, but the female-dominated audience know exactly what they’re in for. Perhaps nostalgic about the close-knit, gossip-filled (and long-gone) communities of Scotland’s wash-houses, they anticipate each joke and chuckle when the punch line follows.
Director Alison Peebles has assembled a strong cast with Julie Austin shining as the tough sarcastic Catholic matriarch Magrit: especially during her monologue about the trials of being a woman (or ‘unpaid skivvies’). Kay Gallie’s absentminded Mrs Culfeathers seems so ensconced in her washing that she deceives you into thinking she’s forgotten about the play and is just doing her own thing. Don't even start her on the topic of Galloway's mince.
With such a precise setting, creating an original design is challenging. Yet Kenny Miller manages, adding flashes of sparkle and showbiz to the mundane existences of Dolly, Doreen, Magrit and Mrs Culfeathers. These moments usually appear when our ladies break into song and although the cast face problems with tuning and keeping in time with their backing tracks, it seems somehow appropriate. After all, how odd would it be if lassies from a Glasgow wash-house sung like the cream of the West End?
This is not challenging, innovative or surprising entertainment. It does however have heart. Add to that some of Scotland’s top theatre talent and you have a charming, crowd-pleasing evening.