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Steel Magnolias is one of those plays that has many different facets, and I think that on the whole the cast brought these dimensions to life.  As Lynda Lyvsey-Randall’s first foray into direction for HHTC it was a good vehicle, with some nice directorial touches.

I was impressed with the set, but this has become a given for HHTC – their sets are always good, and make you believe that you are actually there – so I really felt as if I was in a hair and beauty salon.  There was running water at the basin, a good old fashioned hair dryer on a stand, and loads of product on show.  

Lighting was good, although I would have liked to have seen a little dimming of the lights at the end when M’Lynn was reminiscing, it would have helped the mood, and added to the drama of the words, which should have been really touching, but for me the bright lights made it all a little bit too matter of fact.

Sound effects were good, especially the dog barking and the gun shots – very effective.

I needed a little more projection from some of the cast, particularly when they were on the back rostra – always a fine balance when personal mics aren’t used, however, I had no problem at all hearing Karina Bygate as Ouiser or Zoe Harbour as Shelby – but when a drop in the voice is called for, if the volume hasn’t been up to start with then the quieter moments occasionally get lost.

I thought the ladies were well cast and each gave their characters meaning and purpose, and integrated well.

For me the Karina gave the most impressive all round performance, getting meaning and intent into her lib, although I always felt that Ouiser was possibly the roughest of the bunch, and would have liked her to have been a bit more homespun as a contrast to the other ladies.

Zoe Harbour gave us a touching performance as Shelby, getting good nuances into her character and some different dimensions I got the premise that Shelby was rather naive and didn’t fully appreciate the problems, but I wanted a little more drama to make it seem more real.

I liked Penny Coombs character, Clairee, very down to earth with some observant remarks and looks, nicely done.  The characterisation was good.

Kate Ratcliffe who played M’Lynn, Shelby’s mother, was a really smart cookie in all ways, and gave us a well-rounded character – I liked what she did with the part, but lost some of the dramatic atmosphere in her final speech, although the reaction after it was very telling.

Jaqui Sampson a new face to HHTC, was Truvy the salon owner, which was a nice part, well played.  A little more forcefulness in some of her lines would have helped to make this a completely rounded character.  But I liked the interaction between her and her customers, and also between her and Annelle, the apprentice she took on, who was nicely played by Chloe Harvey, giving us the character’s timidity to start with, then the increasing confidence as she found God, and regained her husband, a good understanding of the part.

I liked the way the humour was brought out, and the drama of the situation, but felt it just needed a little more emphasis at times to give it more impact overall.

Costumes were good throughout, as were the wigs, the different colours and different wigs to create the new hairstyles were also very well-thought out.  

So, overall a good version of the play, I just needed a little more impact and punch from each of the actors, to make it even more hard-hitting and gritty.  That said, I did enjoy it, it had lots of interest and contrasts, and it was a good-looking show to watch.

Hemel Hempstead Theatre Company

STEEL MAGNOLIAS” review date: 20th March 2014 Boxmoor Playhouse

Director:  Lynda Lyvsey-Randall


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