🎭 Steel Magnolias
📍 Richmond Theatre
🎫 PR invite

Steel Magnolias revolves around a group of Southern women in Louisiana who regularly meet at the local hair and beauty salon run by Truvy (Lucy Speed). The play spans a few years, as we see the group laugh, cry, bicker, and, importantly, build meaningful friendships.

Written by Robert Harling, Steel Magnolias is based on Harling’s family tragedy and adapted into the 1989 film with an ensemble cast, including Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts.

The story

The first scene takes place on the day of Shelby’s wedding as all the women appear in the salon. Truvy introduces her new, eager assistant, Anelle (Elizabeth Ayodele) to the ladies. Shelby (Diana Vickers) is confident, cheeky and has a likeable aura about her and often disputes with her mother, M’Lynn (Laura Main). M’Lynn, who is quite the contrast, is overprotective and worrisome over her daughter’s choices – from wedding flowers to hairstyles. Completing the group is Clairee (Caroline Harker), former First Lady of Louisana and the incredibly witty, Ouiser (Harriet Thorpe).

We soon learn of Shelbie’s diabetic health condition, which risks her life as she desires to become a mother. The drama centres around this and the tragic events to come.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

My thoughts

Steel Magnolias is a good representation of strength and the importance of being unified in tough circumstances. Directed by Anthony Banks, the first act did well to establish the varying personalities amongst the group. While I admired watching the bonds the characters formed, I couldn’t help but feel the play suffered some pacing issues. Act 1 felt drawn out, and almost as though nothing was happening. Once Ouiser entered the stage, their one-liners bought the much-needed humour and energy the show required.

The production takes place entirely in the salon; the set and costume design are quintessentially 80s, representing the era well. Laura Hopkins’ set includes neon signs, photos of Dolly Parton and a ‘the higher the hair, the closer to God’ poster. Kulkari’s costume choices similarly showcased typical eighties attire. The characters have several outfit changes, between bright, bold mismatched prints and varying wigs with scrunchies.  

There were a couple of moments where lighting cues were missed, and I also noted that the Southern accents were not as strong as we would hope. Described as a comedy-drama, some jokes fell flat, while others I didn’t really understand. This could be a case of the script being written for its time and not as culturally relevant today. It would be interesting to see a total revival of this play mainly as the themes are key.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

The cast worked well together, and their friendship appeared natural. Diana Vickers’ was a standout and gave an authentic performance in the role of Shelby. Lucy Speed was also wonderful as the kind-hearted, reassuring friend to them all, especially in Act 2.

I liked how the salon signified a safe space for the characters. We watched them experience love, laughter, and loss. It’s unfortunate circumstances, with the final scenes proving to be the most powerful. The tragedy brings the group closer, emphasising the true meaning of friendship.

Steel Magnolias is playing at Richmond Theatre until 28 January 2023, before continuing its tour.