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Steel Magnolias review at the Hope Theatre, London – ‘breezy and affectionate’

Ariel Harrison, Maggie Robson, Jo Wickham and Samantha Shellie in Steel Magnolias at the Hope Theatre, London. Photo: LHPhotoshots Ariel Harrison, Maggie Robson, Jo Wickham and Samantha Shellie in Steel Magnolias at the Hope Theatre, London. Photo: LHPhotoshots
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The 1980s was the decade of big hair, a look that required many extra hours in the hairdresser’s chair. In Miss Truvy’s beauty shop, stinginess with hairspray is a sin and everything is so ultra-feminine that even the dustpan and brush is pink. Within this safe space, the customers share everything from recipes and gossip, to matters of life and death.

In Matthew Parker’s breezy production, Robert Harling’s 1987 six-hander Steel Magnolias is much more entertaining and less languid than the all-star film that it inspired. The intimacy of the setting and bustle of activity on stage (lots of teasing of hair) is akin to dropping in on friends and laughing with them at their many eccentricities.

It’s surely difficult not to be stylised playing a southern US lady if you’re not actually a US southerner. The sextet offers a host of broad but heartfelt performances. Jo Wickham brings plenty of bouncy warmth to salon owner Truvy; Maggie Robson is a scene-stealer as the irascible Ouiser, and Stephanie Beattie admirably stalwart as the resilient M’Lynn.

It’s a pity that the main shortcoming is that the doomed diabetic Shelby (Samantha Shellie), the linchpin of the story, is too symbolic and saccharine to ring true.

Any opportunity to celebrate a multi-generational cast of six women who don’t just talk about men should surely be encouraged. With this close-knit circle of friends, there’s nothing that an “Oh, honey” and a big bosomy hug won’t help to soothe.

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Verdict
US southern comfort warmly served by affectionate ensemble
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