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The Steamie

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Three stars
When Tony Roper wrote his 1950s-set comedy more than a quarter of a century ago, it was his experience as an actor he brought to it rather than a rarefied literary sensibility. Yet his yarn about four women putting their dirty washing out to dry in a public steam room on Hogmanay is as plotless as Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot, which was famously described as a play where 'nothing happens twice.' Like Godot, however, there is a lot more going on here, and not just via both plays' love affair with music hall.

As with Beckett's existential double act of Vladimir and Estragon, Roper's women are terminally optimistic co-dependents in search of a future. Where Beckett's universe is vague and zen-like, Roper's is rooted in a sense of fast-fading community where a sense of sisterhood is slowly trickling down the class scale. As Ken Alexander's revival makes clear, Roper's play is essentially a set of comic routines, which, punctuated by David Anderson's songs, never fails to tap into something that goes beyond cosy nostalgia to something deeper.

This is reflected in the performances, with Jenny Lee's Mrs Culfeathers less doddery than how she is sometimes played, while, at the opposite end of the age scale, Helen McAlpine's Doreen seems more street-smart and less naïve. Julie Coombe's Magrit and Janette Foggo's Dolly are similarly fused with a battle-weary common touch that fires all their banter. As the sole representative of the male species, Alan McHugh captures Andy's decline from cocksure swagger to rubber-legged drunk with Max Wall-like abandon in a production that's worth the ticket price for the Galloway's mince routine alone.

The Herald, November 1st 2013


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