STEEL Magnolias, Robert Harling’s powerful ode to female friendship, was inspired by his own upbringing rural Louisiana. The award-winning film starring Sally Field and Julia Roberts was based on Harling’s play, written as a tribute to his diabetic sister.
In the hands of director Adela Forestier-Walker and the versatile Athenaeum Limelight Players, this funny, poignant play, set as in the original in Truvy’s hair and beauty salon, captures both the spirit of the Deep Southern women of the title and the worldwide importance of female support networks. Most directors (and there have been many in am dram socs in recent years) comment on the fun of working with the women who bring the characters to life. It can be almost a cliché.
Not so at Warminster, where the director and her exceptional company find new depths in this intensely felt story of life and death in a tight-bound community.
There are no make-weight characters among the six women – mother and daughter M’Lynn and Shelby, Truvy, her apprentice Annelle and customers Clairee and Ouiser.
M’Lynn, (Wendy Dolpheide), and Shelby, (newcomer Kirstie Price, fresh from her Jim Hawkins with Sturminster Newton’s SNADS) found a totally convincing relationship that gave their exchanges an added power.
Charlotte Stringer took the Truvy role from Dolly Parton and made it her own, and Megan McCrorie was a funny and moving born-again Annelle.
Lisa Shuckford caught the wealthy widow Clairee to a T.
Perhaps the greatest character role is Ouiser, the old Southern woman who grows the tomatoes she hates, because it’s traditional. The extraordinarily talented Bozsi Davis (who can forget her Lady in the Van) took no prisoners as this crusty, kind and hilarious woman.
The accents (trained by Bozsi) were pretty good, and the feeling of Chinquapin parish was cleverly evoked in Warminster.
Hugely skilled direction and performances made this production a joy for the packed audiences, and evidently for the company.
Footnote. The programme lists “Mary Carpenter” for the song Passionate Kisses as one of those played in the theatre. She really is Mary Chapin Carpenter, and is known as Chapin!