The Steamie at the Hydro
**** 4 Stars
“ the most beloved theatrical play in the Scottish repertoire “
32 years after its debut at the 300 seat Crawfurd Theatre in Glasgow’s JordanHill district, Tony Roper’s warm hearted and loving reflection of a Glasgow that’s now consigned to the memories of the elder generation of the cities women, is back home in the biggest production of the show ever attempted and what a joy it is.
Set on Hogmanay in the mid 1950’s in one the cities many wash houses known as “The Steamie” Margrit McGuire (Louise McCarthy), Dolly Johnston (Gayle Telfer Stevens), Doreen Hood (Fiona Wood) and Molly Culfeathers ( Mary McCusker) come together to carry out the last washing of the year and along the way share memories, laughter and a few tears as well as hope for the future in what has become the most beloved theatrical play in the Scottish repertoire.
The Steamie, has toured Scotland and across the UK consistently over the last 30 years and celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 2017 visiting many of Scotland’s biggest theatres. So, the chance to do something special and bring this modern classic to the hydro promised huge things and for the most it delivered well. The hydro at full capacity seats 13,000 however the capacity has been lowered for the Steamie with the top deck and sides of the venue draped off. This is a good thing as it ensures clean sightlines from every seat in the massive venue.
Directed by Tony Roper himself with support from associate Director Ryan Dewar and working with Kenny Miller’s expansive Design, this is a Steamie that truly brings the 1950’s Glasgow to life on an epic scale with long gone Tram Cars sailing across the stage and massive video projection show (designed by Dewar too) really adding an epic feel to the whole production.
However, its still the story of the 4 women that lie at the heart of the piece and Roper ensures that it remains the constant heartbeat of the show. The principal performances are faultless, Fiona Wood and Mary McCusker are a joy, but they are veterans of the show having performed on the 30th Anniversary tour. McCusker delivers the most legendary sketch from the show (Galloway’s Mince) with such elegance and understated charm as soon she says the first word of the routine the massive audience give her a round of applause; this is truly a cultural phenomenon. Louise McCarthy and Gayle Telfer Stevens make their debut and are faultless, bringing endless charm, comedy magic and big voices to their roles. Telfer Stevens deserves special mention for the opening of Act 2 with a new song that expresses a side of Dolly that has remained hidden for 30 years its an emotional moment. McCarthy brings everything and more to the role of Margrit however she is done a disservice in her big moment “Isn’t It Wonderful to be a Woman”, Originally a powerhouse of monologue (as can been seen in the much vaunted 1988 STV recording of the show with Dorothy Paul showing just what a wonderful piece of writing it is), Is delivered in its Song format and it takes away the power and truth that expresses what many woman of the time felt, it does however remain charming none the less. There is one principal male role of Andy the attendant of the Steamie which is comedy gold and Harry Ward delivers in spades.
Production wise it’s a stunning affair and does its best to fill the Hydro’s massive space well. Kenny Millers wonderful set is brought to life with Grant Anderson’s stadium style lighting design and Paul Smith’s excellent sound design ensures every single word and musical note is heard with clarity.
This production also features a 4-piece live band under the direction of MD Ross Brown that adds a real boost and there is also a 13 strong ensemble however they really bookend the show in spectacular set pieces and the feeling they are underused is difficult to alter given that the play is focused on just 5 characters.
Ultimately the Steamie at the Hydro delivers everything it sets out to, but the hydro still feels just a bit to big for the piece but it does ensure the legacy of the Steamie will be forever unmatched.
The Steamie at The Hydro, SSE Hydro, Glasgow, Runs Until Tuesday 31st December for tickets go to: https://www.thessehydro.com/events/detail/the-steamie