Theatre Review: Steel Magnolias

Words: Tanya Louise
Thursday 13 April 2023
reading time: min, words

After all, we all love a bit of gossip at the hairdressers don’t we.


I liked the sound of the synopsis. “Follow the trials and tribulations of six fierce and sassy women as they set the world to rights in their small-town bustling beauty salon”, that sounds like a bit of me I thought, so I looked forward to Steel Magnolias at The Theatre Royal Nottingham.

After all, we all love a bit of gossip at the hairdressers don’t we. Based on the “uplifting and inspiring” film starring Dolly Parton and a young Julia Roberts, it sounds like a not to be missed production, however admittedly I’d never seen the film. That remained unchanged. I tried Netflix. Nope. Then I started to wonder why for a presumably 80’s classic I’d not seen it. Not to worry, sometimes it’s good to go into a production without comparing it to a film.

The original 1987 play by Robert Harding was inspired by the death of his sister due to complications arising from diabetes. So what happens? Almost everything and yet we never stray from the salon set. It rotates, and Christmas decorations and changes in costume signal the passing of time, as does of course the dialogue of the six female actors who bond and explore life through their chat, from life to death. I’m not sure whether it was just where I was sitting, but at times in the second act I couldn’t look at half of the stage as light reflected in a salon mirror was blinding.


The acting though is faultless. Even knowing who was in the cast it took me a moment to realise ex EastEnders actress, Lucy Speed, was the Dolly Parton character, Truvy Jones, owner of Truvy's salon where the action takes place. She has Dolly’s look and voice down to a tee.

Likewise Diana Vickers appears to emulate the doe-eyed look and persona of Julia Roberts as the ill fated Shelby Eatenton, and Call the Midwife star Laura Main gives a fantastic performance as M’Lynn Eatenton, having the most moving dialogue of the production in the second act.

80’s nostalgia is big, yet we sometimes forget we’re talking over 30 years. In that time the world has gotten far more fast paced, as have films and theatre productions, and, like many when drawing comparisons, Steel Magnolias seems to now feel a little slow.

Was I ‘uplifted and inspired’? No. Was I moved to tears? No. Did I laugh out loud? A little. Steel Magnolias is classed as a comedy but whilst warm, it has a dark under current. However, there are some classic one-liners, such as “I’m not crazy, M’Lynn, I’ve just been in a very bad mood for 40 years!” and “The nicest thing I can say about her is that her tattoos are spelt correctly”

What the story does do is highlight the support women can share with other women, in some of the toughest times of their life as “Life goes on” Go along and witness an acting masterclass, but you’ll need to slow down to be on board.

Steel Magnolias plays at the Nottingham's Theatre Royal until Saturday 15 April 2023.

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