Digital Editor Cara Louise-Scott reviews Steel Magnolias and finds the production to be a heart-warming comedy with a well-driven plot
Steel Magnolias, currently playing at The Alexandra, is a humorous and moving play about six women as they go through the wonders and challenges of life. Set in a hair salon in 1960’s USA, these six women couldn’t be more different but somehow their lives intersect through their heart-warming friendship. 2023 marks the 13th anniversary of this play, written by Robert Harling, as a tribute for his sister who died of complications from diabetes.
We are first introduced to Truvy (played by Lucy Speed), the owner of the hair salon, and her new assistant, Annelle (Elizabeth Ayodele). The hair salon is the base of the entire plot. We do not move from outside of the hair salon, but we are aware of what goes on in each character’s lives in between the scenes; we get a relatively clear picture of the world outside from their dialogue and the plot inside the salon. This is done in a clever, unique way using just one set.
But the set changes in many ways too. Throughout the play, we shift into new scenes where we are introduced to different seasons, to show us that time has moved since we last saw these characters. The chairs and basin, and even the door at one point, move in each scene, new decorations are added, such as tinsel and a Christmas tree, and with that, the characters change too in their hairstyles and outfits. The door of the salon offers a metaphorical and literal gateway into the lives of the characters as they come and go from the salon.
While a considerable chunk of the play evolves around the conversations of these characters, these hilarious and over-lapping chats help shape each character’s identity and moves the plot slowly forward. In the first scene, Shelby (Diana Vickers) comes in to get her hair done for her wedding, and through the conversations between Truvy, Shelby and Shelby’s mum M’Lynn (Laura Man), we learn in immense detail about the tensions of the M’Lynn’s husband and Ouiser (Harriet Thorpe), Shelby’s marriage and health, and the intrigue around Annelle ‘s circumstances. What is revealed in the first scene, cleverly fits into the tensions of the rest of the play.
From that first scene, we become aware of Shelby’s health which moves the plot alone with the announcement of her pregnancy, then her kidney transplant until the revelation of the ending.
Each character is important to the plot and they all have their quirks and backstories. The humorous dialogue between Ouiser and Clairee (Caroline Harker) was entertaining to watch and lifted any low spirits in the salon. Shelby was a funny and kind character, which contrasted against her strict mother, M’Lynn, in which she often clashed with. With there being only six characters and an all female cast, the directors had to make sure each character was well fleshed out. For me, this was done successfully.
The tragic ending was a shock to me but it worked to fit in with the moving, heart-warming play and showed the strengths of the crafted friendships of these characters. There are jokes even during the serious moments, but it works well in this setting. At times, the plot does move slowly but because of the setting of the play this was not surprising, and I still felt myself engaged in the actions and dialogue of the play.
If you’re looking for a play that offers comedy, well-driven plot, and heart-warming characters, Steel Magnolias will have everything you’re looking for.
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