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The Steamie

SSE Hydro, Glasgow
Four Stars

Like an Oscar Marzaroli postcard, Tony Roper’s much loved play taps into the heart and soul of Glasgow’s long demolished past like few other works of art. Roper’s depiction of four women in an old town wash-house on Hogmanay may now be almost as far away in time from its original 1987 production as that was from its source. The rich seam of good-humoured humanity that pulses the exchanges between the women in the face of hard-knocks, however, remains as life-affirming as it ever did.

Book-ending the experience are Mary McCusker’s Mrs Culfeathers and Fiona Wood’s ingénue, Doreen. Mrs Culfeathers works her fingers to the bone doing laundry for those who can afford to pay for it. Doreen’s aspirations for a house in Drumchapel with a phone and a bath are destined for disappointment. Magrit and Dolly - played by real life comedy partners Louise McCarthy and Gayle Telfer Stevens - spar magnificently inbetween. As they talk, the women’s stalls become their private stage, where hopes and memories burst into life on Kenny Miller’s set that transforms into a fantastical dreamscape. And then there is wash-house demagogue Andy, played with drunken delirium by Harry Ward.

It’s a risk scaling up this short seasonal revival of Roper’s own production for a shiny barn like the Hydro. With dance routines from an expanded cast accompanied by a live band playing David Anderson’s gallus songs, there’s a danger of distancing the play from everything it’s about. Despite this, the comic cuts contained within remain priceless. The imaginary telephone sketch and the Galloway’s mince routine are all but jumped on by an expectant audience already well versed in their impeccably timed genius.

Forget nostalgia. Here is a play that sings with every word about the irreplaceable value of community, and which celebrates the value of localism in every way. In short, The Steamie is everything that Hogmanay should be, not just in Glasgow, but the world over. Those in the midst of making a mess of Edinburgh this week should probably take note.

The Herald, December 30th 2019

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