very light clothing, trainers or preferably bare feet. Not the usual
theatre then. No, actually the wonderful Victorian Turkish Bath at
Nell Dunn’s Steaming was brilliantly performed there in
front of 50 lightly clad people. The cast was even more lightly clad.
Verisimilitude taken to the limit, full nudity for the liberated
heroine, and eventually for the mentally disturbed bather. The
middle-class audience, of a certain age, loved it.
Class was the keynote. The play did start to show its age, written in
the 60s, not only through the emphasis on the class and therefore the
education, wealth and expectations of the group of women who visit the
bath—actually a Russian rather than a Turkish bath, viz, the title and references to a
good steam throughout—for unwinding, a bit of company and a good
gossip, but also because the council wanted to put a public library in
its place and thus shatter the social lives of the little group of
In the 2000s, it is ethnicity that is more likely to shear a group
apart and never, never would a modern council think to put up a public
library. They don’t actually exist now, they are called Ideas Palaces
or some such tripe. Anyway, the fundamental themes of the play remain
valid. Lots of people are still poor, and certainly teenage
pregnancies abound, and above all, no democratically elected town
council takes any more notice of their council tax payers now than
they did of their ratepayers in the past.
But the venue. By some miracle, the director Hannah Chissick, managed
to get her players performing uninhibitedly in cramped spaces with the
audience on benches or on the floor sometimes only inches away from
the bare skins which made for intense, visceral, emotional impact.
Careful mock-ups for rehearsals apparently.
Having never seen the play
on a normal stage, it is difficult to say just what difference having
the performance in a Turkish Bath made. It seemed to me to help the
suspension of disbelief no end. In fact, I was totally taken in by the
baths attendant who showed us to our seats before the play started—and
who turned out to be the actress (Kate Rutter) who played the baths
Well, the women lost. But they also found themselves. The baths were
closed in spite of the campaign planned by Jane, the already partly
independent mature student (Victoria Carling). In the heat and
closeness, the slatternly but dynamic heroine (Josie Walker) is
empowered, the meek deserted wife (Gaynor Barrett) finds herself, the
mentally disturbed Dawn (Lorraine Cheshire) gets liberated from her
loving but over-protecting mother (Judy Wilson). And the only man is a
voice off. Great.