Press Review: Steel Magnolias at The Alexandra Theatre

Written by Robert Harling (based on his own personal experiences), and directed by Anthony Banks, Steel Magnolias tells the story of the trials, tribulations and friendships of a group of women based in the fictional parish of Chinquapin, Louisiana. 

The title itself suggests the nature of these women to be “as delicate as magnolias but as tough as steel” and this is exactly what we discover as the play progresses. Set in the 1980s within Truvy’s (Lucy Speed) hair salon, Truvy serves as the lynchpin in which everyone is connected. While the main plot is focused on Shelby – her battle with diabetes, her wedding and her pregnancy – and her mother M’Lynn (Laura Main), we also find out more about the others within a series of subplots. Annellle (Elizabeth Ayodele) is finding her path in a new town, the rather blunt Ouiser (played by Claire Carpenter) and Clairee (Caroline Harker) is the widow of the former mayor and is dealing with her grief.

While the first half is perhaps a little slow in terms of plot development, there was plenty of fantastic dialogue and interaction between the characters, with lots of clever one liners, although at times it was perhaps a little difficult to hear. The whole cast have a great chemistry and warmth between them, with Lucy Speed as Truvy and Diana Vickers as Shelby shining in their roles, and it was a joy to watch Annelle’s character development as she grows in confidence throughout. I also admired the hairdressing skills of the actors themselves – being able to create soaring bouffants while staying in character and continuing with the dialogue was admirable.

What was unique and particularly effective about the show is the use of Laura Hopkins’ set, with wooden panels and posters of the popular hairstyles of the era being cleverly reversed at the interval so that we see it from an entirely different perspective.

Steel Magnolias is not a show for anyone who likes fast-paced action and lots of movement, being extremely heavy in terms of dialogue and many of the themes covered. However, those who loves stories of love and the power of friendship will leave the theatre with a smile on their face and a tear in their eye.

Steel Magnolias will be on stage at The Alexandra Theatre until Saturday 25th March. Get your tickets here!