Aug 24 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆     Great potential

Greenside Riddles Court: Monday 22 Aug 2022
Review by Tom Ralphs

Salamander, from Pretty Knickers Productions at Greenside @ Riddles Court, is inspired by true events that took place in Leith in the 1980s.

The trigger event was the murder of a sex worker on Salamander Street. The play doubles as a warning of the risks that sex workers continue to face, while also giving them a voice that they are often denied in mainstream media and political debates.

Sarah Dingwall, Mhairi McCall, Niamh Kinan and Claire Docherty in Salamander. Pic Calum Ferguson

Mhairi McCall and Cal Ferguson’s script is not a police procedural, the crime is not solved or even investigated. Instead, the focus is on a group set up by Police Prostitution Liaison Officer Pat, played by Claire McCarragher, with the support of Joan, played by Becky Niven, from the local church.

The group initially seems like a well-intentioned but hideously ill-informed intervention to Tiff, V, Candy and Roxy, the four sex workers who they are trying to reach out to. The four are all given distinct personalities and back stories by McCall and Ferguson, alongside director Kirsty Pennycook, and their personalities are brought to life by the actors playing them.

vulnerability and strength

Claire Docherty plays V, the longest standing of the four and a mother of two. Tiff, played by co-writer McCall is the newest to the work and is battling a predisposition towards drugs. The script fleshes out both characters to prove that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

McCall’s performance shows both her vulnerability and her strength as she tries to overcome odds that were stacked against her from an early age. Songs and poetry, with guitar accompaniment from Lewis Lauder are performed in character to achingly beautiful effect to achieve this.

Claire McCarragher and Becky Niven in Salamander. Pic Calum Ferguson

The other two sex workers are the confident wise-cracking Candy, played by Sarah Dingwall, and Roxy (Niamh Kinane), who briefly left the street for the city’s saunas.

There is a refreshing rawness to all of the performances. They are not glamourising the work, but equally they are not playing victims. Like the script itself, they challenge the stereotypes by delivering fully-formed three-dimensional characters who have a variety of reasons for taking up sex work.

As the foil to the four, McCarragher plays the liaison officer role with a straight bat. She is not trying to save the women and knows that they will never truly be her friends.

Niven initially gives Joan a typically repressed jolly hocky-sticks style church wife but brings out the humour in the character and the script to great effect in a one-to-one with God where she talks about her husband’s unusual bedtime choices.

The role does seem to be somewhat cliched, however, particularly when compared to the four sex workers. The script as a whole suffers from being constrained by a 60 minute fringe time slot, that doesn’t allow it to fulfil the scope of its ambition or potential.


The number of scenes played out on chairs on the same level as the audience, in a theatre without a raised stage or raked seating is also frustrating, as some of the power of the script is lost when it becomes almost impossible to see the actors.

The story feels like something that should be a full-length piece or even a TV series where the back stories would come to life to further challenge the myths surrounding sex workers. That said, it is one of the few plays where it is a lack of time, rather than a lack of ideas, that is the problem. In the time they have available to them, Pretty Knickers Productions have done a great job.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Greenside @ Riddles Court (Thistle Theatre), Riddles Court, 322 Lawnmarket, EH1 2PG (Venue 16)
Monday 22 to Saturday 27 August 2022
Evenings: 20.45.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Facebook: @prettyknickersproductions
Instagram: @prettyknickersproductions
Twitter: @pretty_knickers

Sarah Dingwall, Niamh Kinane and Mhairi McCall in Salamander. Pic Calum Ferguson


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