Review: Steel Magnolias at The Lowry will ‘bring a smile to your face with its wit and laugh out loud moments’

The play was first written for the stage in 1987,  by Robert Harling, influenced and inspired by the events surrounding his sister’s untimely death due to diabetes complications.

The play explores the support that his mother received in the aftermath from a closely-knit group of friends at the local beauty salon.

It was later adapted into the iconic 1989 movie, directed by Herbert Ross, that featured an all-star cast, including, among others, Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts (who won a golden globe), Shirley MacLaine, and Sally Field. The play now returns to the stage at the Lowry with a talented cast that brings the charms of 80s Louisiana to Salford, complete with southern drawls, and sky-high bouffants.

The story is set in Truvy’s Hair and beauty salon, in the fictional Louisianan town of Chinquapin.

Truvy, played by Lucy Speed (The Archers, The Bill) takes up the mantle of the great Dolly Parton and does so, wonderfully. As pictures of Dolly herself adorn the walls around her, she seems to be possessed by the spirit of the country music, and movie star, not for one second delivering anything less than a perfect impression of her mannerisms and delivery. “There’s no such thing as natural beauty”, is the mantra by which she runs her salon.

As the play opens, Truvy is initiating a new member of staff, Annelle, played by Elizabeth Ayodele (Playboy of the West Indies).

She is a soon-to-be born-again Christian, who is escaping from a tumultuous relationship with a criminal ex and is immediately taken in – despite her shortcomings as a beautician – by Truvy, immediately making it clear to the audience that this is a place of refuge that forges those that need it into ‘steel magnolias’.

At the heart of the play is the story of Shelby, played by the excellent Diana Vickers (The X-Factor, Dial M For Murder) who takes on the role played by Julia Roberts in the movie

She steals the show as the effervescent young bride-to-be, who, despite a type-1 diabetes diagnosis, is determined to become a mother. This greatly concerns her mother, M’Lynn, played by Laura Main (Call the Midwife), who is well aware of the dangers involved and tries her
best to dissuade her daughter from making the decision.

The salon regulars provide support to the pair, and with the introduction of Clairee, a wealthy ex-Mayoress, played by Caroline Harker (A Touch of Frost), and the cantankerous Ouiser, played by Harriet Thorpe (Absolutely Fabulous, The Brittas Empire), they add balance to the group and give the salon a lively and authentic atmosphere as they trade well-meaning barbs.

Especially in the case of Ouiser – they produce some of the more memorable one-liners… “I’m not crazy…I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years”, being one example.

The dialogue is sharp and witty, frequently producing laugh-out-loud moments that reverberate throughout the audience, and although the play does venture onto the more serious and emotionally resonant ground, it never lets up with the humour, keeping the salon regulars, and audience
members; spirits high.

The show is ably directed by Anthony Banks, sticking to the original script by Robert Harling, and the costumes by Susan Kulkarni are on-point, with all the colour and volume that is associated with the especially ‘loud’ 1980s. The set design by Laura Hopkins is effective, as the play is entirely set in one location – the salon, but a decision to flip the stage around at the midpoint seemed a little strange and jarring. Also, the exterior of the salon is always in darkness, giving the impression that the story takes place entirely at night.

If not for the mostly consistent accents, one could be forgiven for thinking that the story is set during an Alaskan winter, rather than in Louisiana.

Minor gripes aside, the play is well worth a trip to the theatre.

Despite Ouiser’s declaration that “I do not see plays, because I can nap at home for free”, this particular play will keep you engaged throughout and might bring a tear to your eye, but will resoundingly, bring a smile to your face.

The play runs from Tuesday, 21st of February through to Saturday, 25th February, with tickets starting from £16. Runtime: 2hrs, 13 mins.

Audio described date available on Wednesday, February 22nd at 7:30 pm, with a touch tour at 6:30 pm.

You can get your tickets by clicking here.


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