Skip to main content

Review of Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

Steel Magnolias is perhaps most known for the star-studded 1989 movie rather than this neat and emotional play with comedic undertones. The play by Robert Harling actually came first, by two years, and tells the story of six women, family and friends and their meetings at Truvy's beauty parlour. As time goes on we witness the evolution of this collection of oddball, but not overly caricatured people and the emotional traumas that happen in their lives.

On paper, this play is very chick lit but the film itself is fascinatingly described by one reviewer on IMDB as "A 'Chick Flick' Men Can Enjoy, Too!" They are quite correct as although this conversational piece is at times very hairdresser or ladies chatting over the garden wall like, there is a heart to this story that makes it appealing to both genders.

It helps of course that there is a wonderfully assembled cast, all seemingly completely comfortable with their roles. Di Wyman as proprietor Truvy maintains a lovely confident demeaning while bringing lighthearted moments to many situations, including her willingness to help out in the crying department, "I have a strict policy that nobody cries alone in my presence."

Emma Robson as "I'm new" girl Annelle relaxes into the slow building role as this character develops. Her second act scenes are her best, especially when challenging M'Lynn via her new newly found and totally encapsulating belief. Corinna Leeder as Ouiser makes an immediate impact on proceedings arriving in the best costume of this very well dressed piece. The role is one very suited to her as she eases into the sparky, quick worded delivery and times perfectly some brilliant lines including that classic "very bad mood" one. Lisa Wright cuts a prim and proper figure and more than a little above everyone else persona as Clairee, but more than willing to show her part in the community. Her scene with the potential punchbag of Ouiser is a superb moment, cleverly delivered.

However, for the brilliance of those cast members, there are two exceptional ones from Julia Langley as Shelby and an even more so one from Mindy Robinson as her mother M'Lynn. It is true that these are the two strongest characters of the play and are the driving forces of the story, however, performance is key and these two bring an incredible amount to the stage. Julia is at all times full of life and vitality as Shelby and makes all the events, therefore, lay much heavier on the audience as they live through them. She also handles that excellent attack scene with remarkable realism.

Mindy though brings about perhaps one of the strongest emotional performances that I have seen in an amateur show. Wordlessly and silently contemplating under the hairdryer in response to Shelby's news and then creating a remarkably powerful performance in that final scene leaving many of the audience themselves in tears. It truly is an amazing scene expertly delivered.

The play is not without its faults though as there are a few staging issues with sightlines occasionally broken due to the dominance of the two main hairdressing seats. This leaves from one side of the theatre cast members on the back seats totally obscured at times, which if non-active is fine. However often they are involved in the conversation and are invisible to some of the audience for too long. There are also a couple of very long scene changes which regular readers will know are the bane of my theatre viewing life. Great song to listen to during them though.

So, a highly entertaining play, which has a fair quota of really funny moments considering the direction the piece goes in. It turns on a sixpence early on as the drama rears its head and builds well to a quite incredible final scene. This is very clearly a chick lit play, but one which will definitely appeal to the chaps out there as well.

Performance reviewed: Wednesday 17th May 2017 at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton.


Steel Magnolias runs at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton until Saturday 20th May 2017.

For full details of the Playhouse Theatre visit their website at http://www.theplayhousetheatre.net/
and can be found on Twitter @PlayhouseNTH or on Facebook at 
https://www.facebook.com/groups/1104164619627708/

The cast of Steel Magnolias. Photo: Vicki Holland

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Great Expectations by The Royal & Derngate Actors Company at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

Market Boy from The Actors Company last year was a remarkable show and is likely to stay with me for a long time, so following it with this year's production was always going to be a tough call and with their production of the epic Dickens classic Great Expectations, they at least didn't lack ambition.

I have to be honest, things for me didn't start well. The first few minutes of this adaptation by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod is a busy and convoluted sequence moving the opening part of the story in an unclear and often irritating way. For those present not aware of the original story, I wouldn't envy them trying to keep up with what is going on. However much of the trouble of this opening sequence is quickly corrected as scenes become more defined and controlled and the story is allowed to develop at a slower pace.

Perhaps also in the early part, it doesn't help either that the gender-swapped Magwitch played by Salli Bersham is a little too full on with the o…

Review of Once Upon A Grimm Tale by The Royal & Derngate Actors Company (Early) at Judge's Lodgings, Northampton

Once upon a time, there was a brave theatrical reviewer. He lived in a market town in deepest darkest Englaland, where many great and remarkable things of stage did occur. At the centre of this wondrous world of performing spectacles was a place referred to by many as the Royal Derngatus, a place of people pretending to be other people and telling tales of mystery, intrigue and frolics.

Within the fortressed walls of Royal Derngatus, there were a group of fearless players who entertained local folk for no reward, other than the thrill of seeing the joy in the faces of others. Those group of artists went by the name of Actors Companus, which many pronounced carefully when they did say it out loud. This group of merry men and women did have two forms, an early and a late, and but two days before this adventurous evening of forthcoming storytelling, the late group did perform for a third and final time a most amazing feat of theatre, going by the name of Great Expectations.


Our hero of thi…

Review of Hansel & Gretel by Warts & All at Delapré Abbey, Northampton

For those unfamiliar with Kneehigh Theatre (from where this show originally comes), the best way of explaining them is that they do traditional things, differently. This performance by Warts and All Theatre of their adaptation of the classic tale of Hansel & Gretel tells you much of what you need to know early on as a (human) rabbit is pinned down upon a table and skinned (half their costume removed). It is just one of an evening of wacky and quite brilliant moments as this production sours mostly for the sky of brilliance.

Handed to a cast of young performers, the result is often disturbingly professional. Sure it is still rough around the edges at times, but perhaps this helps the material. It doesn't actually matter if there is sparring from the cast with the audience, knowing looks and playfulness. It doesn't matter if one of the cast nearly knocks the cymbal of the musicians flying, perhaps it would have been even better if they had, this is anachic fun at its very b…