Writer: Tony Roper
Songs: David Anderson
Director: Tony Roper
It’s that rare thing, a play so magical that it wraps its arms around you like a great big hug. A play so universally loved; it is almost unparalleled in Scottish theatre, such is the power of Tony Roper’s classic, The Steamie. So, it was with trepidation that this reviewer received the news that the much-loved, intimate favourite would be scaling up to the World’s second busiest live auditorium, the SSE Hydro Arena (next only to Madison Square Garden in New York), thankfully, any fears are expelled the moment you walk into the packed auditorium.
Scenes of a bygone Glasgow scroll across projection screens, music from the 40s and 50s fills your ears, providing the multi-generational audience with plenty to discuss and reminisce over. When a slew of actors, dressed in era-appropriate clothes, teems onto the stage to a backdrop of a Glasgow on the verge of the 1950s, you know you are in safe hands, when a full-sized, moving, Glasgow Council tram drives across the stage, you are sure you are in for a treat. And so it proves, from the new opening sequence to the added songs and choreography peppered throughout, this glorious play loses none of its intimacy, humour or magic.
The premise is simple, it’s Hogmanay in the public wash house and four very different women: Magrit (Louise McCarthy), Mrs. Culfeathers (Mary McCusker), Dolly (Gayle Telfer Stevens) and Doreen (Fiona Wood), gather to get the laundry complete before ‘the bells’. Roper’s play may on the surface seem like a lightweight comedy, but this glimpse into a Glasgow now lost, a fly on the wall insight into the lives of post-war, working class women is a culturally significant celebration of a forgotten generation. Woven among the hysterical lines is a real understanding of what these women sacrificed to set the rest of us on a path to a better life.
Roper’s dialogue is a masterclass in comedy writing, but it depends on a masterclass in dramatic and comedic acting to deliver them and make them land, and the cast are universally first rate. Every look, every pause is perfectly timed to pack a punch.
The Steamie remains as magical as it ever was and even in this vast arena it still wraps you in a great big warm hug. I urge you to catch it if you can.
Runs until 31 December 2019