Review: Steel Magnolias

LOUISE RIPLEY-DUGGAN: ‘Go and see it if you’re up for a bit of a girly time – you know, laughing, crying that sort of thing – and you have two hours to kill. ‘

ADC theatre Alice Wainwright Ben Kavanagh Charlotte Reid Hannah Blaikie Jessica Labhart Liane Grant Pheobe Haines

Tuesday 27th-Saturday 1st May, 7.45 at the ADC. £6-9.

Directed by Ben Kavanagh.

Let me begin by warning you all that if fake accents really get on your tits, this show is definitely not for you; the Louisiana drawls tend to take on a peculiar Yorkshire twang at times, guaranteed to provoke some severe jaw grinding from the less tolerant of us. That aside, there are some excellent performances worth seeing, accents and all. 

The premise of Steel Magnolias is that of a group of six women and their relationships with one another. If you are wondering how on earth this qualifies as a ‘premise’, I don’t blame you.  The script doesn’t give the actresses much to go on in terms of plot, and to make it work their relationships have to be unshakably believable, and their own characters entertaining enough to make you give a shit, and sit through two hours of pretty much nothing. Thankfully, the cast did this brilliantly for the most part.

The mother-daughter relationship between Pheobe Haines as the mother M’Lynn Eatenton and Charlotte Reid as her daughter Shelby was moving from the very start. They also managed to stand out as individual developing characters. Them, and, of course, the hilarious Liane Grant as ‘Ouiser’ Boudreaux, who managed to be entertaining and vulnerable at the same time. Her subtle performance brightened up what would otherwise have been, in places, plain boring. 

The play was described to me as an ‘oestrogen fest’, so I can’t help but wonder, at the risk of being sexist (what’s life without a few risks) who came up with the idea of having a man direct it. Don’t get me wrong – Ben Kavanagh has done a remarkable job of almost shaping a script based around female bonding into a coherent piece of theatre. But the fact is that I came out of this show with no more love for woman-kind than I had before. (And don’t assume that I am one of those girls who doesn’t like other girls).

I can’t help but feel that this could be down to the well known fact – Blokes. Don’t. Get us. The six actresses he was given to work with were almost all more than competent – Jessica Labhart, Alice Wainwright and Hannah Blaikie all gave perfectly watchable performances, and yet he fell just short of the mark in conveying the true spirit of the piece.

Overall, this production comes precariously close to falling on its face. Go and see it if you’re up for a bit of a girly time – you know, laughing, crying that sort of thing – and you have two hours to kill. It definitely has the potential to come together given a few more performances and a fuller house than the first night saw. However if my intuition is wrong and what I saw tonight is what you’ll get, you’re better off watching the movie for an actual ‘oestrogen fest’ worth crying over.