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The Steamie

Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy
Four stars

The Galloway's Mince routine that forms a kind of climax to Tony Roper's relentlessly joyous masterpiece is probably one of the greatest comedy routines to have graced a stage over the last three decades. This side-splitting yarn that sees Roper's quartet of heroines solve one of life's great domestic mysteries was almost upstaged on Friday's opening night of the play's thirtieth anniversary tour by something equally explosive. Whatever technical hiccup caused the loud bang, barely a beat was missed before Mrs Culfeathers, Dolly, Margrit and Doreen dead-panned it to its hilarious conclusion.

Such is the unbreakable power of Roper's play, which sets out its store in a 1950 Glasgow wash-house on Hogmanay, and proceeds to riff its way to closing time. This is done in Roper's own production for producers Neil Laidlaw and Jason Haigh-Ellery with a set of meticulously timed comic turns that colour in an entire society on the verge of being razed out of existence.

The play is strung-together with a series of unplanned moments of a kind that bind friendships forever. There is the tango, Dolly's peat bath purging and the imaginary telephone conversation. And of course there is the Galloway's mince routine. These are delivered by Libby McCarthur, Mary McCusker, Carmen Pieraccini and Fiona Wood with as much big-hearted bonhomie as they invest in David Anderson's songs.

Throughout all this, there are glimpses into the women's lives behind the banter that make the play so much more than knockabout fun. This ranges from the doomed optimism of Doreen, who has her sights on a new-build in countrified Drumchapel with a phone and a bath, to the unabated loneliness of Mrs Culfeathers, with various wastrel men-folk cursed into loveless submission along the way. The male sex is represented by Steven McNicoll as Andy, who oversees the wash-house as if it is his stage, before his surly authority is lost to the bottle. Above all, Roper's creation has become a classic, not out of any sentimental nostalgic appeal, but because it is a plea for community as a thing to cherish.

The Herald, September 11th 2017

ends

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