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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Monday, April 09, 2012

The Steamie, theatre review

Published in the Guardian
On tour
Four stars
There is no funnier piece of writing in the theatre than the Galloway's mince set-piece in this delirious 1987 comedy by Tony Roper. It involves the elderly Mrs Culfeathers breaking off from her labour in a 1950s Glasgow washhouse to explain a theory about her husband's preference for the meat from a particular butchers. Roper takes a banal anecdote based on wobbly logic and bad communication and pushes it to a sublime level that, in the context of wash-day drudgery, verges on the surreal.

With not a beat out of place, the sequence is pure comedic poetry. Greeted by the sell-out audience with a clap of recognition, it carries us through wave upon wave of laughter to a point of near-hysteria.


The quality that comes across in this immaculate 25th-anniversary revival, directed by Roper himself, is the unguarded nature of the conversation. The four women doing their laundry a few hours before Hogmanay have no self-awareness, no sense of distance, irony or analysis. They exist in the moment, and it takes the audience, like eavesdroppers, to see the funny side.


Only when they step forward to sing Dave Anderson's wry songs, crisply realised in Gordon Dougall's fresh arrangements, do they reveal the political dimensions of their situation. A powerful evocation of community bonds, The Steamie sits in defiant opposition to the divisive politics of our own day. As the coalition government launches yet another attack on public housing, this play takes us back to the day when a council house in Drumchapel felt like an impossible dream.


Kay Gallie, Jane McCarry, Anita Vettesse and Fiona Wood - plus token man Mark Cox - know they are driving a vintage vehicle, and perform with the authority that knowledge affords them. On the strength of this outing, it's looking good for another quarter-century.

© Mark Fisher, 2012
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