The Steamie

Date 10th March 2022
Society Blackburn Drama Club
Venue The Empire Theatre, Blackburn
Type of Production Play
Director Joanne Shepherd
Musical Director n/a
Choreographer n/a
Producer The Society
Written By Tony Roper


Author: Paul R. Mason

I experienced a real sense of loss when the four ladies trooped off the stage of the Empire Theatre at the end of "The Steamie". It surpried me that I should have felt this way. Perhaps the most honest and dynamic play I have ever seen was the community play written about Glasgow for its year as European Capital Of Culture. Perfomed in the fabled Tramway its integrity has stayed with me for the last 31 years. I mention this since  "The Steamie" is undoubtedly from the same stable and this production evoked equal emotions.

Before the play starts we observed Andy sitting in his small office waiting for the arrival of the ladies and the time to open the Steamie for business. Paul McGowan was at his best in this role. He brought humour and humanity in equal measure. Paul has the ability to utilize double takes to great effect  creating a character quickly gaining the admiration of the audience.. 

As Doreen, the youngest of the quartet, Heather Radler was outstanding. With due respect to the other four actors, Heather’s professional training shone through. Magrit, Antonia Nadin Holden, is written as the most inwardly looking of the four. Her monologue sitting on the down stage bench was movingly delivered. 

 There was so much to enjoy in this production. The dances, Dolly’s “stripping” scene, the whisky and sherry episode all worked together to instill a real feeling of ordinariness and naturalness about these women. Director, Joanne Shepherd, clearly loves this play. Her meticulous attention to the smallest details was apparent. The authentic costumes, hair styles and props added to its success.

Dolly, Claire St. Pierre, was wonderful. Her timing and natural ability allowed Claire to create a character we came to greatly appreciate. The oldeest character, Mrs. Culfeathers, an iconic role I now know, was briliantly played by Jenny Hodkinson. The most vulnerable, lonely and yet also most wordly wise of the four, Jenny produced a performance of rare beauty: liberally tinged with sadness, trust in others, and naive honesty. It was a tour de force. The back of my neck tingled.

This play relies for much of its effect by what we the audience knows will happen to the world in the time beyond the mid 50s. Author, Tony Roper, wrote the play in 1987. He  was in part commenting on the enormous pace of  the changes he had witnessed to everyday life Glasgow... Now as we look back from the perspective of 2022  the internet and all the other technological innovations, (launderettes aside)  are now commonplace . Tony Rober knew only too well the power of nostalgia and poignancy. How the world has changed again in 35 years. Yet the essential humanity , if left to their own devices, of people has not!  I wonder what the older Doreen in particular makes of it all. Given the chance Mrs. Culfeathers I suspect would have been one of the first in the queue for a mobile phone.

"The Steamie" is a special play. Thank you Joanne and Blackburn Drama Club for introducing it to us.