I was really looking forward to seeing this play as I always loved the movie which came out in 1989 and starred some strong female characters including Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah and Julia Roberts. But the movie is actually based on a 1987 play by Robert Harling, which dealt with the death of his sister Susan. The title suggests the “female characters are as delicate as magnolias but as tough as steel” and tells the story of six special friends.
All the action centers around Truvy’s beauty parlour where the women regularly meet. Two of the leads, Shelby played by Mischa Barton made famous by the OC and of course her designer bags, and Ouiser played by Anne Charleston of Neighbours and Emmerdale fame were the selling point of the play. Mischa lived up to expectations but I was left a little underwhelmed by Anne. Although you could tell neither of the actresses were completely relaxed on stage. There were a few line fluffing moments, most likely nerves and you could certainly tell it had only previewed the night before. They are bound to grow more comfortable with their roles as the tour goes on but it was far from polished last night.
The play itself is packed with sharp, witty dialogue and one-liners and the set design and costume design were excellent capturing the horror of the 80s to perfection – the big hair, the unflattering jeans, the disastrous outfits. The set changes were far too clunky and took far too long resulting in jarring the pace of the play. Also the story builds up to a moving conclusion but for me that last scene lacked emotion. It failed to bring a tear to my eye. The real star of the show was Gillian Hanna who played Clairee – she had all the best lines and gave a fine performance.
It runs in the Gaiety Theatre until the 22nd September and then goes on tour around Ireland.
To learn more about the play and its cast, visit the Steel Magnolias website.