Steel Magnolias, Street Theatre at Strode Theatre, Street

ROBERT Harling’s semi-autobiographical play Steel Magnolias is set in the beauty parlour of a town in the made-up Chinquapin Parish of Louisiana, in reality Natchi­to­ches, with its big sister Shreeve­port up the road for the Christmas Lights Festival.

It’s a brilliant play, with its cast of six women, and it was transferred to the big screen with a starry cast and a few men, taking the action outside Truvy’s Hair Saloon. Its impact on Harling’s home town continues, with Steel Magnolia days and a real-life chance to meet some of the extras, still re-living their moments of cinematic glory.

His inspiration was the death of his beloved sister from diabetes, and the play is a paeon to strong Southern women, regarded by many outsiders as fragile, helpless flowers.

Jane Sayer’s production for Street Theatre has brought a working salon to the stage, complete with running water and a cast trained in basic hairdressing. The clever ruse of having the mirrors as the “fourth wall” gives an added dimension to the performances from six of the company’s most talented actors.

Samantha Elgar manages the Dolly Parton role of Truvy without parody, and there is an authentically reticent turn from Charlie Wood as god-fearing apprentice Annelle. Elaine Haine is the wealthy widow Clairee with Di Dean as an even wealthier and determinedly cussed Ouiser.

Karen Trevis returns to the role of M’Lynn she played years ago at Yeovil Swan, with an added layer of calm, helpless experience.  Charlotte Clarke is her daughter Shelby, stubbornly refusing to give way to advice in an effort to live a normal life. Her fit is frighteningly convincing.

Steel Magnolias is a play of big scenes, leading to the powerful, heartbreaking climax, broken by a hilarious moment.  The Street cast does them all proud, if the linking scenes are sometimes slow and uncertain. The Southern drawl and tangible warmth are skillfully captured in this lastingly moving play, on until Saturday 24th November.


Posted in Reviews on .