Review – The Steamie

May 18 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩   Steaming with vitality

St Serf’s Church Halls: Thurs 16 – Sat 18 May 2013
Review by Thom Dibdin

The mince, tatties and pitch-black peat baths are all in order for the St Serf’s Players new production of Tony Roper’s great hit, The Steamie, up at the St Serf’s Church Halls in Goldenacre until Saturday.

The Steamie is one of those great, joyous plays which remembers and honours what was good about a time in our history – while keeping a very clear view of what was not so good about it.

Doreen (Alison Carcas), Magrit (Carole Birse) and Dolly (Phyllis Ross) share the gossip. Photo Richard M Marshall

That time is the mid Fifties and the place is a Glaswegian steamie on Hogmanay evening. Doreen, Magrit, Dolly and Mrs Culfeathers are there to get the last wash done before the turn of the year – but it is a evening when, quite naturally, gossip is going to be had and tales are going to get told.

There is plenty of humour in Roper’s naturalistic script, but it is not nearly as easy to extract as it would seem. Nor is it easy to keep it real when he makes the characters step outside themselves to perform David Anderson’s wonderful songs.

Not that you would have thought so, from St Serf’s easy, flowing production. Director Philip Wilson clearly understands that the success of the piece stems from creating credible characters and has brought out consistently excellent performances from his four lead actresses and Alistair Brown, the token man.

Dorsay Larnach could have been born to play Mrs Culfeathers, the old woman who is still taking in washing and whose long and winding inconsequential tale of her husband’s taste for a particular brand of mince is the high-point of the show. Just as it should be.

Alison Carcas does an equally strong job in the role of young Doreen, who dreams of moving to Drumchapel and having all the latest modern, labour-saving appliances. The irony of her aspirations and what was to come for the area is not lost in the production.

Secure in the knowledge of its own hilariousness

Carole Birse has all the brass neck you could want for the harsh-tongued Magrit, whose husband is a no-good drunkard. She knows exactly how to cope with the Andy (Alistair Brown), the drunken janitor whose patter is rather less sharp than he thinks.

Dorsay Larnach could have been born to play Mrs Culfeathers. Photo: Richard M Marshall

The larger-than-life, busybody Dolly is brilliantly played by Phyllis Ross. It’s a role which demands both an understanding of comic timing and the ability to be physically self-depreciating to achieve that comedy. Ross has no problem on either count in a performance that is solid and secure in the knowledge of its own hilariousness – without trying to overplay it.

Behind this quartet a non-speaking chorus helped bring a sense of wider community to Trevor Garlick’s functional, believable set. They really come into their own for the songs, stepping forward into Gordon Hughes’ subtle and – for such occasions – rose-tinted lighting scheme to provide vocal backing and depth to the choreography.

Pam Robertson keeps it simple from the piano, helping the production along, giving freedom to those with stronger voices – Larnach’s phrasing is a revelation in her song – and underpinning those who are not quite so confident.

A great night out. Admittedly they have strong material to work with but, for this their 65th anniversary production, St Serf’s have set the benchmark high for the other amateur productions which are scheduled over the rest of the year.

Run ends Saturday 18 May

Running time 2 hrs 25 mins.
St Serf’s Church Hall, 1a Clark Road, Goldenacre
Details on the St Serf’s Players website:



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Comments (3)

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  1. Marion says:

    Sorry I missed this producton, it looks and sounds fab. Thom, just to point out, Phyllis’s surname is Ross, not Rose.

  2. Thom Dibdin says:

    Thanks for pointing that out Marion!

  3. Susan Wales says:

    I thoroughly concur Thom.
    This is one of my favourite plays so I expect a lot from any cast and director. St Serfs had me crying with laughter but also brought out the pathos. I loved the director’s innovative touch of extra lasses in the washhouse. The ‘business’ of the main characters and the extras was so natural and genuine and, although the extras had work going on all the time, it was never distracting. They brought fun and imagination to the musical numbers. I loved the scrubbing board and sweeping-brush ‘bass’ in the background.
    There was such energy in the production and every character was totally believable. Phyllis in particular was extremely brave as well.
    Many congratulations all round. Edinburgh drama rocks!