Back in 1987, when The Steamie first appeared, Glasgow was still full of men and women in their prime who could remember the city’s old communal wash-houses or steamies. Today, by contrast, the idea of a world without domestic washing machines has faded into history; yet it’s a mark of the sheer power of Tony Roper’s superb, funny and perfectly-observed play – with magnificent matching songs by David Anderson – that it somehow seems as vivid and significant as ever, in this 30th anniversary touring production directed by Roper himself.
The Steamie ****
Adam Smith Theatre, Kirkcaldy
The secret of the play’s success, of course, lies in its hard-hitting, intensely theatrical conversational rhythm, which leads us with well-concealed sharpness from the naturalistic surface of a session in a Glasgow steamie on Hogmanay 1950, straight into the heart of the human experience of social change.
Roper’s cast for this anniversary version – Mary McCusker, Libby McArthur, Carmen Pieraccini, Fiona Wood and Steven McNicol – is possibly the finest and funniest to play The Steamie since that electrifying first production.
If some of the show’s greatest songs are missing, and the transitions from speech to music sometimes seem abrupt, Roper’s company pull off the play’s mighty theatrical set-pieces – the tango, the make-believe phone, the immortal Galloway’s mince sequence – with near-perfect comic timing; reminding us that human community, at its best, is not something we manufacture, but a by-product of the work we do, and of the stories we share, and the songs we sing, to help us through the long day.
See it at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, this week, and on tour until November to Dundee, Ayr, Inverness, Stirling, Glasgow, and Edinburgh.