Truvy’s Beauty Spot is a sanctuary for the local women residents. They come to here to celebrate good news, seek comfort for bad, and generally relax to some pampering, letting the rest of their worries roll away. Over the course of about two years, the regulars don’t expect quite so much change but Truvy’s is always there to hear all about it.
Robert Harling’s script follows the lives of six Louisiana women and the births, deaths, and marriages they weather together while getting their hair set and nails done. Truvy (Annie March) is the business owner offering her services in good times and bad. Annelle (Amy Lawler) is a blow-in who finds homely comfort working for Truvy. Then there’s the regulars: M’Lynn (Anna Kourouvale) a long-suffering mother to strong-willed Shelby (Maviel Andonova), the dry-witted matriarch Clairee (Carole Grace), and the town outsider Ouiser (Michelle Bellamy). The unexpected twists their lives take demonstrate the power of friendship to provide support and comfort.
Direction by Trent Gardiner highlights the sweetness and strength of these women and their relationships. Despite set-backs and disappointments, these women’s presences are constant and we clearly see how that allows them each to learn and grow over the years. The set design of Truvy’s Beauty Spot is bright and cheerful like the soundstage of a sitcom and the back wall of iconic women’s headshots from Twiggy to Princess Diana to Grace Jones plays into the idea of repetition and ritual that underpins the salon experience. There is something reassuring about the familiar faces that carry on through time as there is comfort to be found in a regular beauty shop appointment.
The performances from the cast were warm and inviting, open and familiar, which allowed the audience to connect genuinely with each woman’s life. March’s Truvy was a real hoot with her big hair and cinched waist waving around the salon with well-practised authority. Grace as a wealthy widowed politician’s wife was quick as a whip and more than once surprised the audience with her dry quips from the corner couch. And despite her thorny exterior, Bellamy’s Ouiser was the perfect brash anecdote when conversation became too flowery.
But the mother and daughter relationship of Kourouvale and Andonova was particularly well-performed. The sliding scale of their relationship from hot to cold and back again as Shelby got married, had a baby, and became ill was believable and exemplified the ever-changing nature of life’s journey. In the final scene, Kourouvale’s performance of M’Lynn’s lament was deeply moving as she called on her anger more than her sadness to justify her daughter’s death. There was something simple but raw in Kourouvale’s emotion that brought tears to a few audience member’s eyes.
All of that is to say that Steel Magnolias is a very true rendition of the great humour and hurt of this living business. It’s honest, unpretentious, and performed with genuine care.
Steel Magnolias is running at St Aidan’s from May 14th – 30th
To help support Night Writes, please consider tipping.