by Robert Harling.

Queen’s Theatre Billet Lane RM11 1QT To 10 October 2015.
Tue-Sat 8pm Mat 24 Sept, 3 Oct 2.30pm.
Audio-described 3 Oct 2.30pm.
BSL Signed 7 Oct.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.

TICKETS: 01708 443333.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 September.

Fine realistic performances combine with strong ensemble fluency.
This play, sole stage success (to date) of a writer who has since written mainly for the screen, never becomes the formulaic piece it initially threatens to be.

It might seem a sitcom, a Louisiana-set Friends, with the essential familiar meeting-point, for an all-female cast, of a hair-salon. This one’s run by Truvy, Sarah Mahony showing her essential steadiness at the centre of comic and emotional situations to come.

Then there’s the steady growth of a character first seen young and nervous; Annelle, who expands from nervous applicant for salon assistant to firm religious convert, praying during shop hours and growing into the community.

Playwright Robert Harling calculates serious and comic moments, and distributes dramatic interest, allowing characters momentarily peripheral to provide context and support. There’s a fair amount of oddball happenings just offstage, the kind of thing that often accompanies ‘normal’ suburbia; the first sounds are gunshots and a barking dog. There’s something offbeat about the lodgings Annelle has found. It all shows how familiar oddities become part of life.

If this was all, and that was it, the popularity would still be explicable. But Harling has said neither he nor the original cast thought they were handling a comedy till audiences arrived and started laughing night after night after matinee.

What fuels the overall success is the story of Shelby, full of hope and plans, and the impact of her medical condition. If you didn’t know what the Queen’s programme says about this, it would still seem likely the author’s personal experience lay behind the growing importance of this for the action and the cohesion of the salon regulars.

Liz Marsh’s cast catch all this, from the detailed busy-ness of Tina Gray’s cheery Clairee to the never-too-callous cynic Gillian Cally maintains in Ouiser. Gemma Salter’s Shelby has the brightness of happy youth, starkly contrasted by the bitter attack induced by her condition, while as her mother M’Lynn Claire Storey conveys a parent’s wariness while getting on with life. On Dinah England’s set, a tree outside the window ingeniously helps set the seasonal changes in this pleasantly affecting piece.

Ouiser: Gillian Cally.
Clairee: Tina Gray.
Truvy: Sarah Mahony.
Shelby: Gemma Salter.
M’Lynn: Claire Storey.
Annelle: Lucy Wells.

Director: Liz Marsh.
Designer/Costume: Dinah England.
Lighting: Chris Howcroft.
Dialect coach: Richard Ryder.

2015-09-27 14:42:06

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