Play will make you laugh and cry

Cherie Lunghi and Denise Welch in Steel Magnolias at the Nottingham Theatre Royal.
Cherie Lunghi and Denise Welch in Steel Magnolias at the Nottingham Theatre Royal.

BEAUTY salons can be a closed shop to some men, who can only wonder about what might be dished up in the weekly gossip.

So it’s something of a male insight to steal a glimpse at the action in Truvy’s (Denise Welch) eighties’ establishment in Chinquapin, Louisiana, as Steel Magnolias reaches Nottingham’s Theatre Royal.

It has to be said that this heart-warming and bittersweet comedy fully lives up to its publicity billing as the funniest play to ever make you cry.

It celebrates the strength and value of friendship, humour and love in the midst of life’s greatest hardships, with a definite touch of Calendar Girls.

For a start, it is based on a true story written by Robert Harling following the loss of his beloved sister. Here are six quite different women, with a friendship which endures through good times and bad.

Helped by her eager new assistant, Annelle (Kacey Ainsworth), the outspoken, wise-cracking Truvy dispenses shampoos and free advice to the town’s rich curmudgeon, Ouiser (Cheryl Campbell), an eccentric millionaire, Clairee (Cherie Lunghi) and the local social leader, M’Lynn (Isla Blair), whose daughter, Shelby (Sadie Pickering), the prettiest girl in town, is about to marry. But dark clouds are ahead and then we see the special qualities which are visible in such moments among southern belles with backbones of steel.

It is unfair to single out any member of the cast for special praise because the blend is ideal and they capture the Southern accent to near-perfection.

Amidst the sentiment, this is a play packed with hilarious one-liners, many of them delivered with devastating timing by Denise Welch. And as bride-to-be Shelby, Sadie Pickering excels, but then Kacey Ainsworth leaves her EastEnders past far behind as her character develops.

Some very funny moments, too, from Isla Blair and Cheryl Campbell. Much of the dialogue is delivered directly to the audience via an imaginary mirror in the salon and there’s a nice interchange of seasons featuring summer and Christmas in a small town.

Never once does attention stray in a heart-warming and very funny play that requires a few tissues and is every bit as good as Calendar Girls.