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Steel Magnolias

by Robert Harling
20th - 22nd October 2009

Steel Magnolias poster

Annelle Dupuy-Desoto : Keeley Campbell
Truvy Jones : Carolyn Hewitt
Clairee Belcher : Chrissie Neal
Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie : Tracey Nicholls
M'Lynn Eatenton : Trish Ruff
Ouiser Boudreaux : Jan Stevenson

Director : Boo Feltham

Set Designer : Jackson Ellen

DIRECTORS, like actors, must have a natural instinct for what they are doing if they are to be successful. Boo Feltham, here making her directorial debut, is clearly very instinctive indeed and this production will certainly go down as one of the best I have seen this year - and Iíve seen a fair few.

The absolutely fantastic and wonderfully detailed Louisiana Ďbeauty parlour in a converted car portí set that greeted the audience as they walked into the auditorium was an indication of what was to come, and we were not to be disappointed.

A six-strong cast comprising Keely Campbell (Annelle), Carolyn Hewitt (Truvy), Chrissie Neal (Clairee), Tracey Nicholls (Shelby), Trish Ruff (MíLynn) and Jan Stevenson (Ouiser) were all absolutely outstanding and utterly believable, really drawing us into their world of closeness, caring and tragedy. And the pace was such that the many one-liners were always given their full value, meaning that there were numerous laugh-out-loud moments to balance those that were tear-jerking.

The various sound effects were also extremely effective in suggesting that there was a real world beyond the parlour, and in my mindís eye I am still imagining Ouiserís dog, pink-skinned having lost its hair, chained up outside.

Linda Kirkman, Scene One

THE stunning set of a beauty parlour in a converted car-port, complete with bank of hair dryers, wash basins and styling brushes is the backdrop for Wimborne Drama's production of Steel Magnolias. How appropriate for such a stylish play, written by American Robert Harling and set during the 1980s in the deep south of Louisiana.

A summer morning finds the women of the town preparing for the wedding of Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie, portrayed to perfection by Tracey Nicholls. She is sharing her rose-coloured vision of married life with warm-hearted Truvy Jones, the accomplished and totally believable Carolyn Hewitt who applies her beauty products with the philosophy that "My ladies get nothing but the best". Her neighbours include Ouiser Boudreaux who is somewhat grumpy yet soft-hearted and Jan Stevenson pulls off the part with a great sense of comedy. Mother of the bride M'Lynn Eatenton, protective of Shelby but often clashing with her, is played beautifully by Trish Ruff while the wealthy widow Clairee Belcher is captured with great charm and humour by Chrissie Neal. Into the group comes new assistant Annelle Dupuy-Desoto and Keely Campbell impresses in her first speaking role as the shy, insecure girl who finds confidence and religious fervour.

The salon becomes the focus of all that happens to the six women as the months go by and Shelby, despite suffering from diabetes, has the child for which she has yearned. All of the group reveal their philosophies of leisure, love and life with the humour and affection which binds them together and it is in these moments of shared emotions that this challenging and enthralling play shows its strength. For there are tears of laughter and tears of anguish in equal measure, even as tragedy strikes. The steely thread running through the very core of each individual, so different in personality but united in grief, is summed up in the simple statement "Life goes on."

Boo Feltham foregoes an onstage role to make an impressive debut as director and by balancing fresh faces with seasoned players she has a well-cast and exquisitely observed success on her hands. Timing throughout is superb, the comedy delivery brilliant and the moments of pathos enough to bring a real lump to the throat.

Truvy's beauty parlour is closed for business now but put February 2010 in the diary and look out for Wimborne Drama's production of The Hound of the Baskervilles. You will not be disappointed.

Pat Scott, Stour and Avon Magazine