Steel Magnolias

‘Steel Magnolias’ is Robert Harling’s 1987 American fine blend of comedy and tragedy. The story is based on Harling’s heart-breaking experiences with the death of his sister, Susan from Type 1 diabetes complications. A writer friend recommended that Harling comes to terms with his grief by writing down his story and feelings. His choice of title suggests that female characters can be both as delicate as a magnolia flower yet as tough as steel.

When the 1989 film was released, it became a firm favourite with tissue-clutching women all over the world.

The film and numerous theatre productions commanded huge names, with some parts being in great demand by the actors. Some of the well-known names that have starred in this story include Joely Richardson, Julia Roberts (who won an Oscar), Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton and Daryl Hannah.

This wonderful heart-rending story is now being brought to you by Laughing Horse Productions in conjunction with the Don Russell Arts Centre. Laughing Horse Productions was formed in 2013 and has produced at least one top-notch production each year since.

It can be seen at the Don Russell Performing Arts Centre on Murdoch Drive, Thornlie this weekend and next. Evening shows on Friday 12th, Saturday 13th March and Friday 19th Saturday 20th at 7.30. Then there is a matinée at 2.00 pm, on Saturday 13th and another on Saturday 20th.

The Scene: Chinquapin, North West Louisiana in 1980

The Set: Designed and constructed by Adam Salathiel. A typical ladies’ hairdressers of 40 years ago. The pale blue walls have a door on each side of the stage; one to the street, the other to the kitchen. Next to the door is a window with lace curtain. There is a hairdresser’s sink unit, two client chairs with a full accessories trolley; at the rear is a settee, storage cabinet and in the corner the reception desk.

Lighting design and operation by Karen Cook.

Sound design: Mishka Miller has produced clear gun shots (one would wake the dead). The music selection of Brenda Lee and Bob Dylan was appropriate for the decade. Sound operated by Chris Mulchinock.

Smart and well-researched programme by Danni Close, with photographs by Rochelle Hayward.

Stage management: Mishka Miler, aided backstage by Adam Salathiel and Makaya Kemp.

A mad man is firing a gun in the street just outside the shops. This is normal for Chinquapin.

At Truvy’s beauty parlour, a group of ‘upper echelon’ clients gather regularly to have their hairdos and harvest the latest town gossip. Truvy (Gabrielle Sampson – bubbly) is helped by her eager new assistant, shy and awkward Annelle (Megan West – delightful). The outspoken, wise-cracking Truvy dispenses shampoos and free advice to the towns rich; including M’Lynn Eatenton (Diana Oliver) and her daughter, Shelby (Laura Goodlet) who is getting married later that day to her fiancé, lawyer Jackson Latcherie.

Whilst having her hair styled with baby’s-breath flowers, Shelby, who has type 1 diabetes, suffers a hypoglycaemic attack. M’Lynn reveals that due to Shelby’s medical condition, her doctor advises against her having children. Shelby had considered ending her engagement to her fiancé, Jackson, so he would not be deprived of children.

The story covers the next three years relating to Shelby’s Type 1 diabetes. Cheerful Clairee, the town’s widowed First Lady (Ellie Cutbush) gives Shelby mental support, whilst the curmudgeon Louisa ‘Ouiser’ Boudreaux (Petrina Harley), known as grouchy Ouiser, starts interrogating Annelle and discovers the truth about her worthless husband.

This play shows how even in the times of deepest grief, a light-hearted, humorous conversation with dear friends can help one cope with the seriousness of an underlying situation. Harling wanted the audience to have a true representation of what his family endured during his sister’s experience and how everyone is mortal.

Director Adam Salathiel and his assistant director Rach Gilmour have tackled a well-known but challenging story to produce, made even more difficult when the audience, having seen the film, have expectations. Nevertheless, with courage and skill they brought it to life. The whole cast fully understood the characters they were portraying and gave it their all. The older – or should that be the more senior (?) – actors are very experienced and gave definitive performances. The younger characters were charming also showing depth of personality.

The costumes and props were perfect for the early 80s, thanks to Kelly Salathiel and the cast and crew. The outfits for the rich clients were stunning and poor Annelle – perfectly daggy.

Please don’t say ‘Seeing the play might spoil the memories of the film’, this is not celluloid but REAL-life, quality acting – you will need three packs of tissues for Diana Oliver’s remarkably poignant final scene.