It’s Edinburgh 1983, and local part-time prostitute Sheila Anderson has been murdered. As a response to this real life crime – which remains unsolved to this day – Police Scotland create the position of ‘Prostitute Liasion Officer’ in order to foster a better relationship with sex workers in the city. Thus, a tableau of four sex workers in bright skimpy outfits, the professionally dressed Liasion Officer, and a visibly uncomfortable, conservatively dressed woman are sitting together in a church hall. Relations are frosty and the distrust of the sex workers is palpable. Can this group of disparate women find common ground and establish mutual trust and respect?
Joan, a church volunteer played by a wonderfully flustered Becky Niven, is extremely naïve about the realities of sex work, not understanding how women from all walks of live can end up plying the streets. Her introduction and education from the sex workers matches that of the audience, and, for all that she is the butt of many jokes, she forms a strong relationship with the women and learns to question her own life in the process.
There are songs throughout the show, with Mhairi McCall’s Tiff having a number of heart wrenching solos. The women all harmonise well and it’s great to hear the Scottish accent shine through the singing. The guitarist, Lewis Lauder, is hidden in a corner at the back of the stage, and although he plays well, he is a little redundant as pre- recorded music would have worked just as well. The cast who also include Sarah Dingwall’s ditsy Candy, Niamh Kinane’s playful Roxy, Claire Docherty’s motherly V, and Claire McCarragher’s professional, no nonsense Pat, are all equally fantastic.
The writers – Pretty Knickers Productions, McCall, here on double duty, and Cal Ferguson – have created a funny, poignant show that effectively highlights the perils and pitfalls of sex work. Timely too. As in the show’s podcast epilogue, it’s highlighted that The City of Edinburgh Council has recently announced plans to close the strip clubs in the city- against the advice of those involved in the industry. The parallels are clear. It took the murder of Sheila Anderson in the 80s for authorities to establish closer links to women in the sex trade; what will it take to re-establish those links today?
Salamander is a great show highlighting an episode of Edinburgh’s past that some may wish to be forgotten. The performances are uniformly excellent and the script manages to balance the humour, tragedy and, ultimately, the humanity of the women in the hidden world of sex work.