“My work gets a bit poofy when I get nervous”
One of my favourite things to experience in the theatre is that sweet spot of just being happy to spend time with the characters presented to you. Much of that is down to the writing but a good deal of it also comes from how the production interprets it and so I’m delighted to report that I happily spent a couple of hours with the ladies of the Hope Theatre’s Steel Magnolias, and could easily spend a couple more, with my cup of ice tea, my fan with a pastel-coloured parrot on it (available to buy at the box office) and much love in my heart.
Robert Harling’s 1987 play found fame in the film version that was released a couple of years later but works exceptionally well here as a study in multi-generational female friendship. Over the course of 4 scenes in 3 years, we experience the trials and tribulations of the patrons of a Louisana beauty salon but despite the drama – and what tear-jerking drama it is – the beauty of Steel Magnolias comes in the everyday relationships and interplay of these women, their fallings-out and friendships, their sharing of recipes and gossip alike, the minutiae of life writ large.
Director Matthew Parker’s astutely observed work identifies all of the ebb and flow of this minor key symphony and his six-strong company respond by playing it to perfection. Jo Wickham’s brassy good-natured salon owner Truvy, Ariel Harrison’s new employee-with-a-past Annelle, Maggie Robson’s wonderfully abrasive Ouiser, Lin Sagovsky’s deeply compassionate Clairee, and exquisite mother and daughter combo Stephanie Beattie and Samantha Shellie as M’Lynn and Shelby, constantly doing affectionate battle as weddings and babies fly by.
It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, (in this heat, it’ll also make you sweat so definitely buy one of those fans!) but most significantly, it’ll make you want to spend time with them, pondering your own loved ones, your own relationships with the people with whom you just randomly break into a dance routine (we all have them!). The intimacy of the Hope, enhanced by Rachael Ryan traverse design, is almost confrontational at first but you soon come to realise that it because they want to share this story with us, share these emotions directly, reminding us all that it’s the seemingly unremarkable quiet moments in life that will get you through the toughest of times.