DOREEN, Margrit, Dolly and Mrs Culfeathers celebrate their silver jubilee this year. That’s 25 years of scrubbing and gossiping, singing and crying, but most importantly, making people laugh .
They’ll be doing that again at the Festival Theatre next week, when Tony Roper’s modern Scottish classic, The Steamie, returns to the Capital.
For those yet to experience this emotional roller-coaster, the action takes place on Hogmanay, in a 1950s Glasgow wash-house, where the girls must get their washing done before the bells - with a little help from the not so handy Andy.
“In my late forties I sat down with a biro and a jotter and wrote my first ever play,” recalls Roper, who also directs the anniversary production.
“Twenty-five years have since passed and The Steamie is still there, giving laughter and tears and touching that intangible something in an audience that has made it a favourite night out.
“My gratitude to all the actors, designers, directors and audiences over that quarter century who have made it happen.”
The current cast is the strongest yet believes Roper - but first, meet the girls.
The youngest is newly married Doreen, then there’s hard-working mother of two Margrit, who’s married to an alcoholic layabout. Next is the good-hearted, naive and gullible Dolly and finally, there’s the elderly Mrs Culfeathers, who still takes in washing to support her family.
“Everybody forgets there’s a guy called Andy in it too,” laughs Roper. “He never gets a review, he never gets anything, the women are so much part of it that he gets overlooked. It’s been the same for every actor who has ever played him, and this time that’s Mark Cox.”
Turning his attention to his ‘girls’ Roper, best known as Jamesie Cotter in Rab C Nesbit, says proudly, “It’s an incredibly fine cast. There’s a wee girl called Fiona Wood, she is built like a skelf, but when she opens her mouth to sing she could bring the roof down. When she first rehearsed the song I thought, ‘Oh, she’s started too high. She won’t be able to keep that going.’ But she did... going up and up. I sat there with my mouth open, wondering, ‘Where is this coming from, there’s nothing of her.’
“Then there’s Jane McCarry who just makes me fall about laughing, she’s the perfect Dolly, a funny, funny person.
“Kay Gallie is the best Mrs Culfeathers I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot. When she first played the role she had to age up, now she has to age down. Her timing is immaculate.
“The last lady is Anita Vitesse, as Magrit, she too is absolutely brilliant.”
Roper considers himself a very lucky director, but of course, he created the characters in the first place.
“I couldn’t write about being a woman, but what I did was look at my mother, her pals, the lassies that I was going out with and amalgamate them into what I thought was there,” he explains.
“I wasn’t trying to capture anything that was intrinsically female, I wouldn’t attempt to do that. What I wanted to capture was my admiration for the way those women coped.
“In an age when females are presented as having to be as near to perfection, the ladies of The Steamie are all real women, not air-brushed models, and audiences relate to that.”
The Steamie, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Tuesday-Saturday, 7.30pm (mats 2.30pm), £15-£28, 0131-529 6000