REVIEW: Sadness and laughter in a Louisiana hairdressers

Steel Magnolias, Hurstpierpoint Players, May 27

From left: Lyn Snowdon, Linda Burton, Robyn Jenkins, Sue Wicks, Karinn Grierson and Jan Bell
From left: Lyn Snowdon, Linda Burton, Robyn Jenkins, Sue Wicks, Karinn Grierson and Jan Bell

Well, this is a pleasant surprise.

Seeing as I’m a 28-year-old man who likes crude stand-up comedians, heavy metal and action movies I didn’t think I was going to enjoy Steel Magnolias.

However, the Hurstpierpoint Players have put together a likeable, well-acted and, yes, rather moving production.

The comedy-drama, written in 1987 by Robert Harling (and made into a movie in 1989), tells the story of a diverse group of women who hang out in a Louisiana hairdressers to discuss love, relationships, family and whatever they’re going through.

The plot develops slowly (which may test the patience of some audience members) and revolves around the complicated relationship between Shelby, who has Type 1 diabetes but wants a baby, and her worried mother M’Lynn.

Robyn Jenkins, the youngest cast member, is good in her first Players show that’s not a panto. Her character, Annelle, is meek, religious and a bit preachy, but Robyn’s understated performance lets the audience empathise with her.

Both Jan Bell (as the no-nonsense Truvy) and Linda Burton (as the refined but not snobby Clairee) also do well, presenting clever characters that sprinkle witty remarks into their gossip.

Karinn Grierson, who only got into acting last year, gives a pretty convincing performance as Shelby, a sparky young woman who, for better or worse, thinks with her heart.

Lyn Snowdon almost steals the show as the gruff and tough Ouiser (pronounced ‘Weezer’, like the band), a belligerent woman who isn’t crazy but has “been in a very bad mood for 40 years.”

But the show’s most memorable performance belongs to Sue Wicks as M’Lynn.

She’s sharp, but not as bubbly as the other characters and Sue does a good job of hinting at the anxiety and tension beneath her character’s facade in early scenes. This becomes more pronounced as the plot progresses and finally explodes during the devastating final scene.

It would be easy to get this moment wrong. Intensely emotional displays in stage or film productions are always in danger of backfiring badly, even becoming laughable. However, Sue gets this moment right, giving the scene a sense of raw emotional realism, instead of pushing it into the realm of melodrama.

I should also mention that, apart from a couple of odd-sounding or possibly mispronounced words, all the cast members handle their tricky Louisiana accents well.

Maybe it’s not the most important aspect of this play, but it certainly helps bring that Deep South world to life in a picturesque English village.

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