Mhairi McCall & Cal Ferguson
Pretty Knickers Productions
Greenside @ Riddles Court
Inspired by the real-life murder of Sheila Anderson, Salamander tells the story of a Police Scotland-led support group for a small set of Leith sex workers. There, the newly instituted Prostitute Liaison Officer and a Church of Scotland representative get to know these women and together learn a little about themselves as well as each other.
The title Salamander has a dual meaning: both the street name where prostitution was historically rife near Leith docks and also the mythical lizard that could endure the blaze of an inferno without being harmed. And it’s clear that the play is drawing that latter inference, when comparing the strength and solidarity of these women in the face of their work and society’s judgement of them. As we are introduced to each, their backstory is told in the form of a Greek chorus, ensuring that we see them as people, not just a profession.
Despite the potentially dark subject matter, the play from Pretty Knickers is actually quite a funny and endearing story. Even during the moments of sadness, there’s room for a few jokes and some gallows humour. Which is also to say that the tone is occasionally a little mixed and even confused. This is compounded by the fact the play says an awful lot, but doesn’t quite ever make its point clear. It’s so concerned with making sure we understand the strength and resilience of these women that there never really feels like there’s any revelation, with the biggest plot moments coming early and occasionally offstage, or told in the form of a prayer.
That said, it’s still an entertaining and informative story. The real draw of this play, and when it is at its best, is during the moments of spoken word poetry, as co-writer Mhairi McCall lays out the tragedy of her character Tiff’s life in rhyming metre. This works thematically and dramatically, providing a punch that the story itself never quite manages to land with enough oomph to make this an exceptional show.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan