Steel Magnolias

All Saints Dramatic Society  Corpus Christi Parish Centre, Boscombe  Jill Richmond 11 April 2024

As always, All Saints Dramatic Society (ASDS) do not disappoint with their rendition of Robert Harling’s 1987 play Steel Magnolias. The play, known largely from the 1989 film adaptation, is based upon the true story of Harling’s sister, Susan Harling Robinson, who tragically passed away in 1985 due to complications from diabetes.

The play is warm and at the same time hard-hitting, with a flowing and auditorily enticing script that masks strong opinions and the harshness of life whilst drawing you into the world of six women and the embracing nature of women’s friendships as they meet at Truvy’s beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana.

Mary Almeida is very likeable and comforting as Truvy with a solid presence around the stage. As the play opens Truvy is meeting her new stylist, Annelle, played by Rhianna Au-Webb. Annelle is a complex character and Rhianna Au-Webb communicates Annelle’s contrasting lack of confidence and strength of religion beautifully whilst highlighting the powerful bond of womanhood and allowing her to personally grow in the safe space that the beauty salon provides.

Renée Claude plays the central character of Shelby believably, maintaining a confident stage presence with a sensitive and endearing quality whilst depicting the resilience and strength of Susan Harling Robinson perfectly. An emotionally challenging role handled with seemingly effortless ease.

Shelby’s Mother, M’Lynn is another challenging role performed well, as M’Lynn (Susanna Greenwood) traverses the rollercoaster of emotions, tackling her own feelings whilst supporting her daughter with heart-warming positivity and selflessness. “Most mothers only get to give their child life once, I get to do it twice.” Both actors play the relationship between M’Lynn and Shelby with a heartfelt and touching bond.

Jenny Wise plays the acerbic Ouiser with a lightness that you can’t help but like, “I’m not crazy, I’ve just been in a very bad mood for forty years!”. The gossipy and fiery Clairee, former town’s first lady, is played with good physical energy by Carol Gariano and provided many laughs on opening night.

The play on opening night was performed well, showing very little nerves. The American accents were good and consistent, which is no mean feat to uphold for the length of such a wordy play. On occasions, the speech was a little too fast and the diction was affected which in turn meant a few of the jokes were lost but this is not unusual on opening night for a play that does need pace which the company did well to maintain.

With the set remaining mainly static for the full performance, ASDS have created a wonderful and colourful set that allows for the actors to move well around the stage. There is also great attention to detail with props. Louise Richards directs with a brilliant understanding of the characters and skilfully controls the audience’s attention leaving you with the atmosphere of the play long after you’ve left.

The programme is well designed and available for a donation. Donations are also collected at the end of the evening with proceeds to Diabetes UK to help the charity continue its very valuable research which enables so many diabetics to lead a full life.

The play does deal with several difficult issues including illnesses and child loss and although it isn’t a play I would have chosen to watch because of possible emotional intensity, the issues are handled well and I would recommend seeing such a well-written play, a modern classic and supporting local theatre, especially if you enjoyed the film. The play runs for another two performances; Friday 12th April and Saturday 13th April at 19:30.