The Steamie

Aug 16 2018 | By More

★★★★☆    Strong bond

Inverleith St Serf’s Church Centre (Venue): Sat 4 – Sat 18 Aug 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

Leitheatre make a solid and entertaining evening of it with their take on Tony Roper’s great Scottish comedy, The Steamie, which is at St Serf’s until Saturday.

The rose-tinted tale of Hogmanay evening in a Glasgow wash house in the 1950s is one of the most popular pieces staged on the Scottish amateur circuit. But such is the power of Roper’s script and David Anderson’s music, there is little danger of it becoming over familiar.

The Steamie Leitheatre Edfringe 2018 Alix Spinks, Alison Kennedy, Sally Pagan and Phyllis Ross. Pic Marion Donohoe

Alix Spinks, Alison Kennedy, Sally Pagan and Phyllis Ross. Pic: Marion Donohoe

Philip Wilson’s production for Leitheatre is no different. He has his own fun with the script, bringing out the qualities of his four leading actresses and ensuring that the whole has a freshness about it. But the core elements of a time when life was simpler – if harder – and social life had a stronger bond is still there.

He also reverts to the full musical mode, accompanied on piano by Morag Gibson, reinstating those songs which were sadly missing from Roper’s own professional touring productions in recent years – and employing a full complement of wifies as chorus in the background.

In the foreground is young Doreen, who is most recently married and dreams of moving to a house with all mod cons in Drumchapel, the hard-as nails battleaxe Magrit, the busybody Dolly who has a simpler attitude to life than her companions, and old Mrs Culfeathers, who is still taking in washing in her eighties.

Sally Pagan is a believably decrepit Mrs Culfeathers, slightly slow to catch on, but still one of the girls, on their side. Her celebrated story about Galloway’s mince is delivered in a comparatively low-key, but made utterly hilarious because of the others’ reactions to it.

seething opportunity

Under Phyllis Ross’s creation, Dolly is a great mound of seething opportunity. And while Ross doesn’t take every one, it’s the potential she gives to the character that makes her so joyously funny. Her own moment in the spotlight, when Dolly realises that the peat bath she took over six months before might not have been freshly run for her – and the ensuing need to take a wash in the sink of her stall – is a brilliantly realised piece of physical comedy.

The Steamie Leitheatre Edfringe 2018 Alix Spinks, Alison Kennedy, Phyllis Ross and Sally Pagan. Pic Marion Donohoe

Alix Spinks, Alison Kennedy, Phyllis Ross and Sally Pagan. Pic Marion Donohoe

Alison Kennedy’s Magrit is solid, not the razor-sharp battleaxe some make her nor as embittered by an alcoholic husband, but none-the-less fabricated from tempered steel. It is her reactions, the unscripted intakes of breath, pursing of the lips and note of sardonic acceptance of her friends’ inadequacies, which make her stand out.

The youthful Doreen is given a proper level of naivety by Alix Spinks, who relishes her relation of Doreen’s longing for the mod-cons of Drumchapel. And in common with much of the production, she doesn’t play if for the laughs, but lets them build from the script outwards.

As a consequence of this naturalism, Magrit’s pretended phone call to Doreen in her dream home is eye-wateringly hilarious, with each of the four women adding another layer of laughter to the scene.

The role of Andy, the Steamie attendant who stops by for a wee dram, is shared by Billy Renfrew and Euan McIntyre. Renfrew, seen on the night Æ was there, plays him with a great deal of gentleness under his crabbit exterior. He is certainly no match for Magrit, who’d as easily mince him and serve him with tatties, when she is defending her pals from his own attempts at a tongue lashing.

Delightful as David Anderson’s music is, and as integral to the wholeness of the piece as the songs are, they call for a big, full-blown delivery of a type which is not always available to every performer. In this case, the six strong chorus help add a power to the music, although it is always the soloists delivery which holds the attention.

A guaranteed great night out – with proper tears of laughter and a look at where we have come from which tempers its nostalgia with an understanding of what we can learn from it.

Running time: two hours and 10 minutes (including one interval)
Inverleith St Serf’s Church Centre (Venue 83), 1a Clark Road, EH5 3BD
Saturday 4 – Saturday 18 August 2018
Daily, not Suns or Sat 18, 7.30pm. Matinee Sat 18: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details:

Leitheatre website:
Facebook: @Leitheatre
Twitter: @LeitheatreEdin


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