The Steamie - Review

Once again the New Venture’s festive offering proved to be a cracker of a show. This play with songs takes place on New Year’s Eve in the 1950’s and is set in a Glasgow washhouse where four women are working hard to get the washing that they take in finished in time.

While they work the audience is privy to their gossiping, dreams and fears. What comes out depicts the hard life that working class women were subject to in an environment that offered little leisure. Whilst the subject matter may have appeared depressing the show was far from it and proved to be sheer delight. It was full of wonderful fun and, like a seasonal punch; it was a warming mixture of friendship, humour, pathos together with the fiery spirit of survival.

The action was sprinkled with songs – some highlighted the previous scene and were delivered with the character stepping out of the action whilst others remained within and were sung whilst they worked. The singing of Roses of Picardy led to a comical debate as to where Picardy was. A reminiscence of cinema visits segued to The Big Picture, a number that gave each character a chance to express a personal comment. Labour of Love was a cynical number describing a women’s working day - the hardship endured and the suffering engendered through their men folk and drink.

Whilst the writing was remarkable it was the talents of the quartet of actors who breathed life into the women and made them so believable. Laura Scobie’s Doreen was bright and bubbly with a youthful optimism that looked to the future – a house in a better area with new labour saving gadgets of which she’s heard. This was well expressed in the number Dreams Do Come True. By contrast Sheelagh Baker’s Mrs Culfeathers, lonely, exhausted through old age and a lifetimes’ hard work, looked back to golden days of neighbourliness. Baker’s performance was magnificent – one could almost feel her exhaustion and her loneliness. She also provided comedy with the character often being out of sync with the conversation of the others and in sequences that involved the telling of tales regarding mince and taties and the taking of a peat bath.

There were equally well defined performances from Sarah Davies and Charlotte Grimes as Dolly and Magrit. Dolly is a chatterbox who is slightly dim and Davies gets this across to superb effect in the scene that looked forward to owning telephones. A conversation, using scrubbing brushes as phones, took on a life of its own and ended with her believing the conversation to be real. Magrit, having to support a drunken husband, is cynically realistic and Grimes brought this out well. Her delivery of Labour of Love proved to be one of the production’s highlights. Again a good sense of comic timing uplifted the bleak side of the character.

Ben Pritchard completed the cast as the token male who provided the butt of the women’s jokes. The part, written as a caricature, lacked the reality afforded to the women. Pritchard did well within this limitation but his drunken scene, notoriously difficult to get right, could have been improved with a little more subtlety.

The production’s direction was exceedingly well handled by Leanne McKenzie with the assistance of Mark Green who, I believe, was responsible for designing the set. It was one of the most realistic accomplished within the constraints of the Studio. The individual washing stalls with their rusty water tanks were realised well and, along with the period props, soon had one believing that they were inside a steamie. Congratulations to the construction team.

Barrie Jerram