Steel Magnolias, The Hope Theatre, review: “laugh-out-loud funny, gut-wrenchingly sad”

Steel magnolias LHPHOTOSHOTS

Steel magnolias LHPHOTOSHOTS - Credit: Archant

It may be widely known as a film, but Steel Magnolias translates well to the intimate setting of The Hope Theatre.

It may have started its life as a play, but it is through Herbert Ross’s big screen 1989 adaptation starring Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton that it is widely known.

Matthew Parker now reprises the female-only Steel Magnolias for the cosy confines of the Hope Theatre.

It’s a relief to report that the intimate space does not sacrifice the widescreen, hard-hitting dramatic sweep of the original.

Set in a fictional small town in Louisiana, a hairdressing salon is the base for proceedings.

This is where the local women gather to wax lyrical on local gossip, as well as exchanging hopes, dreams and predicaments.

We have new girl Annelle (Ariel Harrison), who is initially a fish out of water; glamorous yet naive Shelby (Samantha Shellie); loquacious Truvy (Jo Wickham); fierce Ouiser (Maggie Robson); feisty Clairee (Lin Sagovsky); and conservative M’Lynn (Stephanie Beattie).

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Whilst it is not readily apparent, Shelby becomes the play’s main focus.

She is a diabetes sufferer and it is this disease that dictates the narrative’s arc, but this is not a play littered with dramatic moments. Instead, for the most part, it relies on the witty repartee in the documentation of local life.

The chemistry between the leads must be palpable for this to work. Execution is key.

Thankfully, the cast are all excellent and exhibit the necessary, essential spark.

With only a few fleeting flat moments in more than two hours of theatre, Steel Magnolias is a delight, successfully straddling the line between being laugh-out-loud funny and gut-wrenchingly sad.

The final third engenders the latter. It is a sturdy tale telling of the tragedy that can befall ordinary lives.

This exceptional rendition makes the most of the universality of this message and ensures a thoroughly satisfying night out in the process.

Rating: 4 stars

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