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The Steamie (Tour - Glasgow)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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The Steamie should be venerated in the People's Palace as one of the greatest works of Scottish comedy. A social document of an era gone-by, the wummin of the Carneggie Street wash house fight class wars like greasy stains in a simmet, finding beauty in the inexhaustible monotonies of their lives and the mysteries of a pound of mince oot a Galloway's.

Set on Hogmanay in a 1950s Glasgow steamie, Tony Roper's wonderful play is a nostalgic look back to the days of the communal laundry, its illicit gossips and the friendships which formed between its overworked and under-appreciated women; women, dreaming of the "Yankee pictures" and lives not led, who fed the shipyards with pieces and jelly and scrubbed its dirt from their men's overalls.

Roper's five-piece cast are excellent. As Magrit, a woman who could wring her husband's neck like a washin, Anita Vettesse is as spirited as she is strong, throwing her hand on her hip in defiance and delivering the Glasgae banter with verve and ferocity. Mark Cox, another favourite of Scottish comedy, handles himself perfectly as maintenance man Andy, the token man in this woman's world and Fiona Wood sings sweetly as youngster Doreen. Kay Gallie, too, finds the spirit of forgotten Glasgow as Mrs. Culfeathers with warmth and wit, even if her performance at times lacks the vulnerability which her character needs.

Jane McCarry made her name playing notorious gossiper Isa in Still Game and it's no mystery why she was cast to play Dolly. McCarry is outstandingly funny as the bandy-legged pensioner, finding a quality which is homely enough to make a pot of lentil soup but forceful enough to put you on your back at the Barrowlands Ballroom if you dared to interrupt her tango.

This remains an immensely important play with obvious resonances today. It is a lament for the death of community. Roper's use of the Scots language is so vivid, his observation of life so astute, that this era of friendship and solidarity is borne again. No matter how difficult life became, these women bit their lips, tied their headscarves and forced on defiantly.

Roper's play has not faded in humour or emotional impact in the twenty-five years which it has played: The Steamie remains as fresh and as welcoming as crisp white bed linen.


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