STEEL MAGNOLIAS: Robert Harling.
Theatre Royal: Tkts 0115 989 5555 www.royalcentre-nottingham.co.uk.
Runs: 2h 35m: one interval: till 28th April.
Performance times: 7.30pm, (Matinees 2.30pm Weds and Sat).
Review: Alan Geary: 23th April 2012.
Excellent actors and production values wasted on a bad play.
It’s deeply reactionary to say so, but Steel Magnolias is a woman’s play. It features only women and its themes are of particular concern to women – it’s for women. What’s more, and entirely coincidentally, it’s a bad play.
The characters are good-humoured, mutually supportive, resilient, resourceful and brave – hence the title; also hence, no doubt, the continuing popularity of the play worldwide.
But for most of the time Steel Magnolias is almost content-free, and the plot proceeds at snail’s pace. When it eventually accelerates it plunges into sentiment so relentlessly bargain basement they’re practically paying you to cart the stuff away. It even outdoes Calendar Girls in this respect.
We’re in Truvy Jones’s hair-dressing salon/beauty parlour in eighties small-town Louisiana. No one actually says “Why, I do declare” but you can tell they’re all thinking it. We get to listen in to the gossip – indolent and/or neglectful husbands and so on. There’s an invisible mirror on the fourth wall so characters can legitimately address a lot of it directly to the audience.
Admittedly, there are some good quip-type lines, most of them allocated to brassy but good-hearted Truvy (well done by Denise Welch) – in this sub-genre people are invariably good-hearted. “The nicest thing I can say about her is that all her tattoos are spelled correctly!” she says of the son’s girlfriend.
Cheryl Campbell is splendid as Ouiser, screechy, rich, eccentric – and, of course, good-hearted. Sadie Pickering is excellent as (at the start of the play) the eager young bride-to-be Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie (all the names are aggressively like Tennessee Williams on an off day). Isla Blair is particularly good as M’Lynn, her mother, especially near the end when she’s bereaved. One of the best scenes is between Shelby and M’Lynn.
Kacey Ainsworth and Cherie Lunghi, respectively, develop Annelle, initially a timid new recruit, and Clairee, initially newly widowed and disoriented, well.
But it has to be said, all of these excellent actors are wasted on a bad play.
Annelle: Kacey Ainsworth.
Truvy: Denise Welch.
Clairee: Cherie Lunghi.
Shelby: Sadie Pickering.
M’Lynn: Isla Blair.
Ouiser: Cheryl Campbell.
Director: David Gilmore.
Designer: Helen Goddard.
Lighting: Matt Haskins.
Sound: Matt Grounds.
Dialect Coach: Roisin Carty.