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All Steamed Up

Libby McArthur, a longtime Scots favourite of stage and screen, has been cast as Dolly in the upcoming tour of one of Scotland’s most beloved comedies, The Steamie, now in its thirtieth year. Known to River City fans as Gina the café owner, she’s also been a pop star, a newspaper columnist and a champion for community arts. She is passionate about her home country and city; iScot went to meet the Glaswegian at home in Kelvinbridge to find out more.
Dolly realises a red sock went in with the white shirts(!) Photo Credit: Douglas Robertson

If you ’ve not heard of The Steamie, you must have been living on St Kilda. It’s Scotland’s equivalent of the Rocky Horror Picture Show; a comic masterpiece featuring four wash-house pals sharing thoughts and workloads on a 1950’s Glasgow Hogmanay. The 1988 STV production can be viewed on YouTube; I ask Libby what she thinks of it. “The live show is very different to that version. It’s neither fish nor fowl when they film a play “for the telly”; it can’t help but fall between two stools. The audience interaction is integral to the show… they’re one of the gang. They join in with all the classic set pieces, from the tango through to the Galloway mince. I’ve been saying it won’t be long until audiences are turning up to The Steamie wearing the gear.

Libby’s character, Dolly, is a sought-after role, played previously by Elaine C Smith and Myra McFadyen. Dolly has no side to her at all. I wondered if she was half-cut – she produces a rare stash of booze when it’s time for “Here’s to ye”. But that’s not it, Libby explains. “I like to think she’s a bit like the Dalai Lama. She’s worked oot what’s life’s about. It’s only about joy. It’s about a rare tear. It’s about meetin’’ folk, about hearin’’ their stories. She’s got this incredible childlikeness – the opposite of childishness. She holds a space where anything can happen - she’s full o’ wonder. Forget your self-help books, just hang aboot wi’ someone like Dolly – she can conjure up stuff, and she puts you at ease with her decency towards others.” Libby quickly adds, “But let’s be absolutely clear – these women are not sentimental. They’re not all sugar and shit! One thing that Tony (Roper, the writer) will stop us in our tracks for in rehearsal is when we’re letting our characters be too “nice” to each other. Because there was nae time fer that, I’m sorry. There was simply too much work to be done. Instead there is camaraderie, because you’re all working like navvies thegither until nine at night, even on Hogmanay.

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iScot Magazine September The one with Theresa May as the Robot in Fritz Lang's 1929 classic film - METROPOLIS