Steel Magnolias

Steel Magnolias Rating

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Steel Magnolias is a well known 80s movie, but it may be less remembered that it was actually a play first, written by Robert Harling, and inspired by the true story of his sister, Susan. Having been performed on stages all around the world, this iconic show with a super-strong all-female cast is now on from 10-25th May 2024 at Beaumaris Theatre, a small welcoming bayside venue.

This amateur theatre group have consistently produced a wide variety of Theatre Arts since starting up in 1953 in the attic of Bill & Angela Martin; a bonus story I was interested to read about in the program. Amongst the many fantastic posters covering the walls are past promotions of comedies, dramas and musicals, so it seems this amateur theatre group is still very active and exciting. Steel Magnolias is their 302nd production and expertly directed by the vibrant Debbie Keyt, who was happy to chat amongst the attendees and gratefully thanked everyone for coming. Debbie is also president of the group’s Committee and this is her 25th show as a Director with the locally treasured Beaumaris Theatre.

Steel Magnolias is set in a beauty salon in Louisiana wherein six excellent Melbourne actresses will share with you a journey of friends bonded together through love and loss. A story about being both delicate and tough, hence the title name.

My first impression upon sitting in my seat, was the extremely accurate 80s era presence in the colourful set (I was a teen in the 80s myself). The audience is on the ‘mirrors’ side of the salon, so we would closely see into the ‘reflection’ of them for the next two hours. Splashing water, bright lighting, music on an old radio with some appropriate song choices and great sound tech. made for a most realistic setting.

First on stage is salon owner “Truvy” played by Trudi Sheppard and “Annelle” played by Caitlin Leong. Annelle is Truvy’s new assistant – a little mysterious at that and which side-story is portrayed instantly, so you are already intrigued and thinking “hmmm …what is going to happen with her?”.

Truvy is extremely loveable in each scene as the best hair stylist in town and the show depicts what probably actually does go on in every hairdressing salon, but especially in a country town. It’s typical tell-tale of women visiting their preferred salon where they feel they can literally ‘let their hair down’ to talk about what’s going on in their lives, what’s important to them and how they feel about each other and the people close to their hearts.

It’s hard to pick a favourite character, especially if you see it as a woman yourself – you will probably relate to each one of them in some way, or, picture in your mind, a friend you could easily have represented by one of them somewhere within the plot. Equally, you might smile at a visualisation of your husband, an in-law or a neighbour from the extended verbal storyline as you can clearly picture what is going on outside the salon’s window, even though you cannot see it.

The topics quickly unfold of a mother and her daughter who is getting married, then having a baby under extreme circumstances, with the love and support needed from each other and from the ladies they catch up with and confide in at their salon visits.

Full of comical moments where you can be smiling one second, gasping the next and crying (or trying not to) when they cry, this play should not be missed by anyone who enjoyed the movie, loves celebrating women and friendship, or perhaps even for nostalgia of times at your own hairdressing salon, which, like the play, often does far more than just tease up a few curls!

The absolutely believable accents from the Deep South of America make the show extra entertaining and not once did these actresses slip up on their dialogue, which is extensive. Comic timing is also everything and I must applaud the cast for their obvious well rehearsed dedication in bringing this script totally alive to have me reflecting upon its message for the next week at least. I especially loved the part where the audience was dead silent in sadness and then within minutes we were all laughing hysterically at an almost girl-on-girl fight about expressing human reactions, ramped up with courageous spirit by Wendy McRae as “Ouiser” and Kate Harvey as “Clairee”. I could hardly believe they could do that scene without bursting into laughter themselves, I’m sure they did in practice!

I do hope that Claire Abagia, in her first production at Beaumaris, dreamily playing “Shelby” with her youthful outlook, and her stage-mom “M’Lynn” played with such great concerned emotion by Samantha Stone, a Drama and English teacher, enjoyed working together as much as we did watching them. As the two characters at the centre of this story, they could have genuinely been a real mother-daughter duo in their intense interactions. My favourite was the stare given from M’Lynn at Shelby’s new hairdo, it was exactly how I remembered my Mum once looking at mine. Later on, my Mum said she too had thought the same thing.

This production of Steel Magnolias is certainly lots of fun, and very memorable. As it was my first time taking my Mum out to see a play on Mothers’ Day too (the reason we chose initially to go for something different to do), the surprise afternoon tea provided by the theatre when the interval doors opened was also indeed, a hit!

Congratulation to the Beaumaris Theatre Team. I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend their latest rendition of Steel Magnolias.

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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