Steel Magnolias

Date 14th July 2017
Society Leighton Buzzard Drama Group
Venue Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre
Type of Production Drama
Director Jo Taylor

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Author: Richard Fitt

A trip to the southern far reaches of my district is always a journey worth making. Leighton Buzzard Drama are a group with high standards and subsequently are high entertainment value. So it proved once again with their production of Steel Magnolias, the classic play by Robert Harling set in a beauty parlour in the deep and steamy south of Louisiana with an all female cast.  In a world of male role dominated scripts this is a firm favourite with drama groups countrywide, with its sharp dialogue and roller coaster of an emotional ride that doesn’t have a happy ending. However, it takes a first rate cast to carry it off.

From the moment the curtain opened the set by Mike Ward announced the standard that was to come. It was a work of art in its own right, a full-blown beauty salon with pink and white stripped walls, wash basins, hair dryers, stools, counter and all the other paraphernalia required to run a beauty salon.  The attention to detail was first rate.

Directed by the excellent Jo Taylor, she certainly stamped her authority on this production. Although set in a static environment with very little action to accompany the dialogue there was always plenty of business going on. It was pretty obvious from the first scene that Truvy (Lorna Daggett) and Annelle (Emma Stone) were pretty familiar with the art of hairdressing as they washed, dried and styled the hair of the rest of the cast with professional ease throughout the play. I’m told these were skills only learnt during rehearsals. Very impressive ladies. This play is entirely dialogue driven and subsequently easy for the audience to lose concentration from time to time, but with the excellent direction giving varied pace, good comic timing and pretty of business to watch this production was riveting throughout.

Emma Stone as Annelle grew her character from the demure newcomer to confident ‘born again Christian’ with well measured pace and maturity.

Lorna Daggett as Truvy and bearing an uncanny resemblance to Dolly Parton* was the glue that held this show together. A very consummate and mature performance that reflected the moods of the scenes.

* Nothing wrong with doing so, but I never did understand why every group thinks this part has to be a Dolly Parton lookalike considering the original stage Truvy was played by Margo Martindale who looks nothing like Dolly..??

Kay Ratcliffe added a lot of the comedy with some superbly delivered one liners and particularly the very funny black comedic moment in the last scene where she breaks the tension and she tries to get M’Lynn to punch Ouiser. A prized comedic highlight.

Saskia McShane as Shelby, which is of course the character around whom the main thread of the plot revolves just owned this part. She says in the programme it’s her first ever play with the group, something I found hard to believe as her performance and maturity certainly belied this.

Ann Kempster as M’Lynn was my dark horse in this production. As NODA don’t do acting awards I like to play a little game and try to pick out the outstanding performance for each show. Just as I had almost made up my mind, along comes Ann in the final scene with one of the best master classes in how to use controlled emotion I have ever seen on an amateur stage. It certainly left a lump in your throat and as my own other half pointed out there were a few surreptitious dabs beneath eyelids around us.  Acting of the highest order. A performance I will remember for some time to come.

Jan Delamore as Ouiser the hardnosed killjoy provided the perfect foil to the rest of the band of mainly upbeat salon goers, with some brilliantly delivered sarcasm, often finding herself comedically put down by Clairee. Loved it!

Overall this was a classy production. A couple of early prompts as the nerves settled down but otherwise pretty much flawless. It’s never been my favourite play being very much one for the ladies, as reflected in an almost full house containing less than a dozen men, most of whom were, I suspect, just accompanying their other halves, so to keep me riveted throughout I take my hat off to you Leighton Buzzard. Another excellent show! And thank you for your excellent hospitality once again.