Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling was first performed in the 1980s and its success ensured that an all star film version quickly followed the plays initial success. But sadly the story of a group of women who meet in their local beauty parlour was only written after Harling lost his own sister and is basically his way of celebrating her life.
The characters all have the opportunity to tell their stories so as the play unfolds we find out more about each of them. This allows the sharp one-liners and humour to work very well amongst the women, but while this is truly an ensemble piece, it is Cheryl Campbell (TV’s Casualty) as Ouiser who makes the greatest impression in the first half.
But the real power of the play is felt in the last Act when Isla Blair as M’Lynn, and mother of Shelby (Sadie Pickering), gives details of the tragic events that have recently occurred. You could have heard a pin drop within the theatre as she spoke every word. Making it even more painful was the site of Denise Welch, as Truvy (owner of the beauty parlour) having to comb Blair’s hair as she spoke. Returning to the play for the first time after her personal own loss, it was obvious, and very understandable, how hard this scene was for her, but she carried it off with sheer professionalism.
Kacey Ainsworth (Eastenders) as new girl in town Annelle and Cherie Lunghi as Clairee, made up the rest of the cast of the play, which does have a Calendar Girls feel about it. Both have been written after a personal loss, have women as the main cast, are hit films, allow each character the opportunity to tell their story and are true ensemble pieces.
Steel Magnolias has the power to turn laughter to tears and back again in a heartbeat and deserves its place as one of the highlights of this season at the Theatre Royal.