Theatre Review: STEEL MAGNOLIAS – The Lowry, Salford

Despite some odd directorial choices, STEEL MAGNOLIAS remains a heartwarming tale of community, showcasing the strength and resilience of women.

3.5 out of 5 stars

It’s been over 30 years since Robert Harling’s play STEEL MAGNOLIAS first made its premiere. The comedy-drama, inspired by his sister’s battle with type 1 diabetes, was adapted into a movie in 1989, starring Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts, and still continues to draw a crowd, as demonstrated by the new UK tour.

Set in small-town Lousiana, STEEL MAGNOLIAS follow the trials and tribulations of six fierce and sassy women who come together through the highs and lows of life. Set over a handful of years, the women regularly gather in Truvy’s bustling beauty parlour to gossip, complain about the men in their lives, celebrate births and marriages, and contemplate life.

In this touring production, Director Anthony Banks keeps the show moving at a steady pace, making the most of Laura Hopkin’s small yet realistic set. Susan Kulkarni’s costumes perfectly ground the characters in the era, while Richard Mawbey’s wig design subtly shows the passage of time as the characters change over the months and years.

Much of the play’s success lies in its well-cast ensemble. CALL THE MIDWIFE’s Laura Main shines as M’Lynn, a mother deeply concerned about her fragile daughter Shelby, played impressively by Diana Vickers. Harriet Thorpe delivers the best of the bitchy lines as Ouiser, while Lucy Speed’s Truvy echoes Dolly Parton, in terms of charm, accent and magnificent coiffure. Elizabeth Ayodele as Annelle and Caroline Harker as Clairee complete the ensemble with great performances.

The play’s script blends humour and pathos, with some wonderfully funny lines and poignant moments. Despite being written decades ago, Harling’s writing still resonates deeply in 2023 and the play’s themes of love, loss, and female friendship are universal and timeless.

However, there are some odd directorial choices that distract from the action, particularly in Act Two. The salon is reversed, presumably to show the passage of time, but the effect is disconcerting. Additionally, a sad scene towards the end feels overly prolonged.

That said, STEEL MAGNOLIAS remains a heartwarming tale of community, showcasing the strength and resilience of women. A touching and humorous portrayal of life’s ups and downs and the enduring power of female friendships.

STEEL MAGNOLIAS runs at The Lowry, Salford, until 25 February 2023