Friday 12 August 2016

Steel Magnolias - Review

Hope Theatre, London


Written by Robert Harding
Directed by Matthew Parker

Maggie Robson

A beautifully bittersweet comedy/drama, set entirely in a small Louisiana town’s hair salon, Steel Magnolias focusses on six women from all walks of life who we discover have a bond between them stronger than the volumes of hairspray securing their expertly coiffured styles.

Written by Robert Harding, the book is based on his experience of his sister's death and by the end of the show’s press night never mind a dry eye, there wasn't a person in the audience who wasn't sobbing uncontrollably.

Samantha Shellie's performance as Shelby is key to the plot. Her fast approaching wedding and dire health conditions knit the piece together and Shellie's understated performance lends itself well to the piece, particularly in contrast to the high energy given from all six actresses that does not drown her out.

Playing Shelby’s mother, Stephanie Beattie is M'Lynn. Throughout the narrative we see M'Lynn constantly battling with her daughter over the wedding and her fragile health conditions and her future. She may be a a concerned controlling mother, but she has good intentions. The raw emotion though, that she portrays in the final scene, is remarkable.

There is similar excellence from the redoubtable Maggie Robson playing Ouiser Boudreaux. Robson’s manic characterisation of the older Southern woman is sheer perfection, from her ever changing voice to her eccentric movement. Quite simply she is a woman who has seen it all, done it all and we love her for it.  And as Truvy, the salon’s owner, Jo Wickham is a treat. Wickham can shift from have the audience clutching their sides with laughter to holding their breath trying not to sob within the space of about 30 seconds. The care and time that she has invested into her character is evident.

Matthew Parker does a fine job working within the Hope Theatre’s compact space. And paired with Rachael Ryan’s fun and engaging set that creates a fully functioning salon, complete with stationary blow-dryer and hair washing station, the audience are made to feel engulfed in the on stage action.  Throughout, the cast do themselves proud offering a whirlwind of female empowerment and a masterclass in acting.

Runs until 3rd September
Reviewed by Charlotte Darcy
Photo credit: LH Photoshots

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