Steel Magnolias Review – Curve Theatre, Leicester

*Disclaimer: tickets provided for press night in exchange for honest review*
Trigger warning: this post discusses death, illness and difficulties around childbirth

Pull out your rollers, stroll down memory lane and make your appointment to visit Truvy‘s hair salon as Steel Magnolias is now open for business at Curve Theatre, Leicester.

Steel Magnolias was written as a tribute to Robert Harling’s diabetic sister, his mother and a group of women who supported them all during those rough times. First produced in New York City after a huge success it was produced into a movie in 1989 starring Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton. Maybe the main message here is that women can be as soft as magnolias but hard as steel.

The play opens up in Truvy’s hair and beauty salon and the site looks absolutely fantastic. You really do get the impression that you’re next in line waiting for your appointment and you feel like you want to get up there yourself to have the biggest hair transformation I’ve ever seen. As Dolly says: the higher the hair, the closer to God! And wow, did Truvy (Lucy Speed) do some high hair!

Steel Magnolias Pamela Raith Photography lucy speed as truvy and annelle portrayed by elizabeth ayodele
Annelle (Elizabeth Ayodele) and Truvy (Lucy Speed) in Steel Magnolias photography by Pamela Raith

The place is split into four parts with one interval set across two years. The play commences with Truvy (Lucy Speed) who has just employed a new member of staff, Annelle (Elizabeth Ayodele). We soon learn that Annelle is a little shaky and has a few secrets of her own. Just like any other salon the tea, or coffee as a more apt choice, is seriously spilt in Truvy’s (even if the water is sometimes made with boiled hotdog water!).

We soon welcome salon regulars and get to know Clairee (Caroline Harker) Ouiser (Claire Carpenter) Shelby (Diana Vickers) and her mother M’Lynn (Laura Main). They start off getting hyped up for Shelbys wedding day and the group gossip about locals, moan about their consistently offstage husbands and boyfriends, and are interrupted a lot by random gunshots from outside. Not too much happens in act one, though Shelby does make it known that she is seriously ill with her diabetes to which the group are all rather concerned which painted a picture of a future happenings.

After the interval the set is flipped, perhaps this might be a metaphor for their lives flipped upside down. We go from mindless gossip to really having to reach out and lean on our friends. The dynamic completely shifts and things take a turn for the worst. There were moments in act two which I found really engaging as we really delved deeper with an insight into the difficulties Shelby had faced in life.

I perhaps felt a little numb to Steel Magnolias in Act II resonating all too closely with my own trials and tribulations of childbirth. For somebody with birth related trauma, or those who have lost a parent, or child young, this play might be triggering.

Elizabeth was a wonderful Annelle and gave lots of calming energy and balance to the group. I especially loved her character growth and seeing her transition so neatly into a member of the group from being this awkward and closed off character in Act I.

Lucy speed really embraced the role of Truvy. I adored her character, was spellbound by the way she did hair so incredibly on stage and appreciated her delivery of lines so effortlessly. Dolly would be proud!

Diana Vickers plays a believable airheaded fragile young Shelby Who although sometimes makes wrong decisions, you can tell she always means well. I thought her passion for showing how desperately Shelby wanted a baby was inspiring.

Laura Main did great as a mother and had concerns all over her face throughout the entire scene when Shelby announced she was pregnant. I also felt her portray of grief was incredibly poignant switching so believably and powerfully between anger, despair, hope and fear.

Lighting wise, I felt was great. The neon lighting gave definite 80’s vibes (thanks stranger things for that bit of knowledge!) and it was used tactfully for entrances and exits – though the six tend to stay on stage for near enough the entire production so I can’t even begin to imagine how many lines they had between them! The Christmas decor seemed to be up within seconds, with more neatly being added by the characters and the emotive use and introduction of the cassette was heartwarming. Not to mention the outfits. If Truvy or Shelby are looking to relocate their outfits, I’d gladly take them off their hands (even if it’s not on my colour palette!).

I wanted to love this one so much more than I did. The play explores friendship, marriage, divorce, birth, death, illness and merciless gossip and all whilst sitting in Truvey’s salon occasionally getting their hair done or a manicure. On paper, it sounded right up my street. The perfect girls night out play. Although I appreciated the play, there were times I genuinely didn’t understand the jokes, which I’m unsure whether it was to do with generational differences or auditory issues with the accent as laughter and tears were a constant for the audience.

On the current appropriate theme of theatre etiquette, I also noticed there was a great regularity of phone use during the performance which I think may have created a barrier between completely immersing in the story which by no means was a reflection of the cast, creatives or front of house staff but instead general theatre etiquette from the audience.

If you love the Steel Magnolias movie, then this will be a great play for you! If you missed out at Curve, then Steel Magnolias will be performing locally at Nottingham Theatre Royal from 11 April 2023 until Saturday 15 April.

See more below:

Curve Theatre, Leicester 04 APR – 08 APR
Running time: 2h 20 (including a 20 min interval)
Age Recommendation: 10+

Written by Robert Harding
Directed by Anthony Banks
Set designed by Laura Hopkins
Lighting by Howard Hudson
Costume design by Susan Kulkarni


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