Review: Steel Magnolias, New Theatre, Cardiff

Jackie Davies reviews the stage adaptation of Steel Magnolias, which plays Cardiff’s New Theatre until April 22.

Many of us are sure to remember Steel Magnolias, the inspiring film starring Shirley Maclaine, Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts, is the warmth, laughter and camaraderie that the small cast commanded. That said, the big question for me was could this connection be created once again for a theatre audience?

The answer is a resounding YES, as a very appreciative audience at the opening night of Steel Magnolias at Cardiff’s New Theatre will confirm.

Actor and writer Robert Harling wrote the play based on the true story of his sister, Susan, and a stellar cast makes sure that it has lost none of its poignancy and relevance.

Set in a small-town beauty salon in the American South, the audience are the mirrors that witness the interactions of the small cast of six. Without pretence, we are launched straight into all of the emotions evoked by the family and friends as they arrive for their appointments.

Spread over two years, our first encounter sees bride-to-be Shelby (Diana Vickers) and her mother M’Lynn (Laura Main) arrive at Truvy’s (Lucy Speed) salon on the morning of Shelby’s wedding. They are soon joined by friends Ousier (Claire Carpenter) and Clairee ( Caroline Harker) to be pampered by Truvy and new employee Annelle (Elizabeth Ayodele).

Shelby’s story is at the heart of the play, and we gradually come to appreciate the protection that her mother affords her.

The dialogue is fast-paced and sharp, with some great one-liners, Ousier’s, ‘I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a bad mood for 40 years’ draws a belly laugh, but it is the juxtaposition of humour and sadness that keeps the play alive.

Lucy Speed puts in a great performance as Turvy, (and it isn’t just the hair that will remain memorable) whilst Diana Vickers is a revelation as Shelby, striking up a poignant and very credible relationship with her mother, played with warmth concern and at times hysteria, by the talented Lucy Main.

The strength over adversity message is as clear now as when it was written. Don’t miss it!

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