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Steel Magnolias (tour - Brighton, Theatre Royal)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Sitting in the theatre, as the curtain falls on this production, I cannot help but look back and wonder about the things I haven’t actually seen. You see, I haven’t seen a wedding, there was no sign of a corpse, two pregnancies seemed to have passed me by and I am certain that there was no appearance by a man incessantly firing his gun to scare away the birds. All I have really seen, for the last two and a half hours, are six women – talking.

What worked marvellously as a film, feels claustrophobic and – dare I say it? – boring, compared to its big screen predecessor. The action moves at such a slow pace that, although there is comedy, it is not really until the beginning of Act Two that it takes off, only to be cut short by the drama of the final scenes. The six characters lack any real depth, but that is purely due to the script and is no reflection at all on the incredibly hard work that all six actresses put in to trying to liven up the, otherwise dull, words.

The piece is set in 1980s Louisiana, at the beauty salon belonging to Truvy Jones Denise Welch, a 40-something woman who knows that, when it comes to looking good, if you don’t have it, you can buy it. Also working in the salon is Truvy’s new assistant, Annelle Kacey Ainsworth, a young, secretive woman who uses religion and her faith as comfort in hard times.

The remaining characters are the salon’s clients, all local pillars of the community, who, like the clientele of the Rovers Return, seem to spend every waking moment there. Cherie Lunghi plays Clairee Belcher, the widow of the former mayor, with Isla Blair taking the most dramatic role in the piece, that of M’Lynn Eatenton, with both delivering robust performances.

Cheryl Campbell bursts onto the stage as Ouiser – pronounced Weezer – Boudreaux ,and it is she who gets the lion’s share of the one-liners. Most are quite gentle comedy, earning ripples of laughter from the audience, but there is the occasional belly laugh as well. The final character in the piece is Shelby Sadie Pickering, daughter of M’Lynn and the focal point of the piece. Her tragic life is central to the overall dramatic effect but, once again, the script lets her down and the character appears very one-dimensional.

There is no doubt that all six women are fine actors and that they all really work their socks off, but I am sorry to say that this is a classic case of not being able to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.


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