Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Laughter and sorrow in the salon

Steel Magnolias

Highbury Theatre Centre


WHEN it comes to writing there is no better reference than personal experience and reality. Steel Magnolias came to be as direct result of author Robert Harling suffering the death of his sister, Susan in 1986.

The film version was criticised for its Hollywood take rather than its Southern Comfort yet it went on to win two academy awards, grossing to date around 140 million dollars. 

The story follows the trials and tribulations of a group of ` Southern Belles ' who share their lives experiences and tales all in the setting of the local hair salon.

Truvy Jones is the owner of the salon and things begin when she takes on ` out of towner’ Annelle who although pleasant is hiding a troubled past. Enter Clairee a widow and former political socialite who wise cracks her way through adversity. Next appointment is Shelby, the soon to be married young girl, who represents the fated path of Robert Harling’s real sister.

Then there is her mother M’Lynne concerned over her daughters failing health yet powerless to change her life decisions. Finally we have Ouiser, another widow, a sturdy old character, who blusters in to complete the group.

It’s a complex play to get right as many of the wise cracks need a specific timing and the transition from shock to awe back to laughter requires some precision and at times the players struggled to achieve this.

However it seemed once the entourage was complete for the first time on stage, everyone seemed to settle into their roles .By the second act things were flowing much better, although maintaining the southern twang sometimes got in the way of diction and few of the jokes were lost.


Emma Woodcock seemed most comfortable as the blond Truvy and with Annelle played by Karrise Willetts they both managed, the not too easy task of, actually doing hair whilst performing their lines.

Gwen Evans, a regular at Highbury, played the widow Clairee and the ` put upon older wife’ is the type of role she always seems fit nicely into.  Gina Martin played Ouiser and her confident entrance as the final member of the group seemed crucial in calming everyone down on stage. Aimee Horner was Shelby and having not seen her at Highbury before thought she handled the part exceptionally well. It is perhaps fitting that final comment is of Laura Chinn who had the lofty task of delivering the heart wrenching summary of her daughter’s death and she did not hold back in stunning the theatre with her committed emotional tears.

The play is directed by Alison Cahill and features a great set by Malcolm Robertshaw.

Although not perfect, I am pretty sure that as the run goes on the company will grasp some of the finer subtleties and timings of this comical but emotional play as it features a strong all female cast that definitely have great potential. To 05-04-14.

Jeff Grant

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