"It felt so safe and comfortable. You know. Warm with all the people who’d used this place. To drink tea and gossip. Bingo. Disco.”
I’ve been directing Fairytaleheart, one of Philip Ridley’s plays for young people, for Govanhill Theatre Group which opens next week. When I heard that the community theatre company was looking for plays, I thought of Fairytaleheart immediately as being brilliant for showcasing the atmospheric environment of the Govanhill Theatre Group’s home in The Steamie – a 96-seat theatre nestled in the heart of Glasgow’s last surviving Edwardian public bathhouse.
The play is set in an abandoned community centre, in the middle of a part of town that’s seen better days. Two lonely teenagers find refuge from their difficult home lives amongst the dust and rubble. From their unexpected friendship and boisterous imagination, the community centre finds a new purpose as a place full of colour, laughter and people.
It felt a fitting analogy with the story of the Baths, itself saved from the grips of ruin by a zealous local community who have taken ownership of the care and future of the labyrinthine building in the form of a charitable trust.
Nowadays, the Baths is home to cultural tenants, community enterprises and its very own resident theatre group. Govanhill Theatre Group is a community theatre company, open to everyone with an interest in theatre regardless of experience. The Group was formed by members of the former Strathclyde Theatre Group to help bring together the local community. The Bath’s old washhouse is now a neatly appointed black box studio theatre.
I fell in love with the space when seeing a friend’s show here earlier in the year. Plants and pigeons take roost in the corners of the room. When it rains, it pours into one particular spot. On cold nights, actors’ breath hovers in the air. This is all part of the space’s beauty and its story. There are ghosts in every one of the poolside changing booths you pass on your torchlit path to The Steamie. Echoes of swinning lessons and the smell of chlorine and bleach linger.
My hope with Fairytaleheart is to share the space with more people and to see what creative ideas might spark from them being in there. We’ve had fun exploring the building from top to bottom, have been made to feel welcome and encouraged by everyone we've met in the past few weeks. It has been a fantastic experience. Our varied rehearsal spaces have been immaculacy clean, the coffee has been flowing, the well stocked prop store has been renamed the Room of Requirement and a direct bus route between home and the Baths means I can get home as quickly as when I'm at the Citizens or the Tron.
Drop in to the Baths and Bruce will give you a tour around the many rooms just calling out for use. I am hoping to see many more people working with or supporting the Govanhill Theatre Group or creating their own work for the Baths. The freedom we've been given and the atmosphere of the place has made every rehearsal a wee dream. I can't wait to share The Steamie with audiences at Fairytaleheart next week and look forward to being wrapped up in blankets enjoying other people's work in this most beautiful of spaces and communities.
Fairytaleheart is at The Steamie @ Govanhill Baths 14 -17 October, 7pm. Tickets are £8 (£6 concession) and available on the door or in advance from brownpapertickets.com