Arts Review: The Steamie


Dir. Marc Mackinnon, Queen Margaret Union, 20th-22nd March.

When deciding which show to put on in Glasgow, The Steamie is a pretty safe bet. Voted second in STV’s Top 30 Best Loved Shows, STaG‘s production of the old favourite is as touching and heartwarming as any you’re likely to see.

The stage is generously decorated like a steamie – towels, lines to hang washing, tubs, washboards. The scene is populated by actresses to show how busy a steamie is on Hogmanay, getting all the washing done for their homes before the new year celebrations.

The four main characters take centre stage –  assertive and loud Dolly, the young Doreen, the tolerant Magrit, and the elderly Mrs Culfeathers. Over the course of the narrative, STaG‘s production stays faithful to the original tale, showing what life was like for working class women living in Glasgow in the 1950s.

It’s meant as a compliment that each character comes across as being their age despite the young cast. Rosa Franklin’s Dolly is a battle-hardened woman who has no qualms about being overheard, with excellent comedic timing. Katy Johnson’s Doreen is noticeably younger, nowhere near as cynical as the rest of those in the steamie, with hopes of having a dream home, and with a seemingly more satisfying marriage than those who have been wedded for a while.

It’s Ella Bendall’s Mrs Culfeathers that delivers the emotion in spades. Coming across perfectly as a fragile, elderly woman, her reminiscing about being young immersed in city life is touching, and her interactions with the others are realistic to the point you’d think these actresses were actually alive in the 50s.

Conor O’Donnelly’s Andy acts as the only male presence, a foil to the unity shown by those in the steamie. Nothing more than a pest, he is the provocation for Katie Renton’s Magrit to deliver a soliloquy about the women’s partners and experiences with men which is a clear standout.

The delivery of the actresses’ lines has to be highlighted – the young cast delivered lines that you might hear your granny say as if it was their everyday vocabulary. The working class dialect, chatting about wirelesses, discussions about the stars of the screen of that time – all of it felt natural and normal, as if we would leave the venue and see a young Tony Curtis causing swooning everywhere he went.

People laughed and people cried – STaG are on to a winner with one of the nation’s favourite tales. It’s fascinating to see how much has changed since that time, yet for the evening, the Queen Margaret Union was transported to the 1950s where women’s work was even more underappreciated than now, where having pals, going outside, and lack of material possessions were all smiled upon, and where groups of women would spend their days enjoying their working company.

[Scott Wilson]

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