The Steamie - from left to right - Anita Vettesse, Fiona Wood, Jane McCarry
The Steamie - from left to right - Anita Vettesse, Fiona Wood, Jane McCarry

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Dundee Caird Hall 3 – 7 April 01382 434940 Edinburgh Festival Theatre 10 – 14 April 0131 529 6000 Inverness Eden Court 16 – 21 April 01463 234234 Aberdeen His Majesty’s Theatre 24 – 28 April 01224 641122 Glasgow King’s Theatre 30 April – 5 May 0844 871 7648 Perth Theatre 8 – 12 May 01738 621 031 Stirling Macrobert 14 – 19 May 01786 466 666

The Steamie: The Anniversary Tour of a classic Scottish Play

Getting Steamin'
Preview by Gareth K Vile.
Published 09 April 2012

Since its debut twenty-five years ago, The Steamie has become a Scottish classic: even a young turk like Johnny McKnight picked it as one of his favourite plays during the National Theatre of Scotland's Staging the Nation series of readings. For this anniversary production its writer Tony Roper - well known as Jamesie off Rab C Nesbit - has been enlisted to direct.

Despite being one of Scotland's most recognisable comedy actors, Roper is disarmingly honest and friendly. He laughs off suggestions that he had a special reason for returning to The Steamie, insisting that he had no idea that it was the twenty-fifth anniversary until the producer got in touch, and is self-deprecating about his success. 

"When I originally wrote it, no-one wanted to do it!" he remembers. "So I threw it in the drawer, and four years later, Wildcat needed an old story. Elaine C Smith, who was doing Naked Video with me, was telling me about this... to cut a long story short, they did it - otherwise it would probably still be sitting in my drawer."

The subsequent television version popularised The Steamie  - Roper has heard estimates that 8 million people have seen it, and that a Finnish company perform it every year - and its story of women getting their washing done on  New Year's Eve has become emblematic of a specific slice of Scottish history.

Yet Roper admits that the female heavy cast was not designed as a statement, but from practicality. "It was purely logical: the company who commissioned me were touring round community halls. I knew that the people who went were mostly pensioners - so I figured if I was going to write something, it would be something for the majority of the audience."

Roper's stratregy paid off: The Steamie is now a modern classic and even an anniversary tour like this is less an exercise in nostalgia than a welcome reminder of Scotland's populist theatre tradition.



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