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The Basildonians - Steel Magnolias

15th to 17th November 2001.

This is the NWN review.

Life, love and motherhood, Lousiana-style

'STEEL MAGNOLIAS', performed by The Basildonians, at Upper Basildon Village Hall, from Thursday, November 15 to Saturday, November 17

There must have been stars in the sky the night director Gillian Reid held auditions for her production of 'Steel Magnolias', or at the very least good old Dame Fortune managed to get everybody in the right place on the right night.

This two-act tale of life, love and motherhood Louisiana-style will only work if every character arrives on stage with a lifetime of baggage trading behind them. The past is essential to shaping the future. The demonstrable comfort of old bonds being drawn tight against an uncertain world is what makes this play tick. To see a production where every character appears to have a life on the other side of the door is a rare treat and a commendable accomplishment.

In her portrayal of Truvy, Amanda Holland gave us tantalising glimpses of the girlhood dreams of glamour that still flickered in the grown woman even though life had marched her down a far stonier road. There was never any reason to doubt that Clairee (Liz Hilton) would be just the sort of middle-aged woman to buy a radio station and take a gay grandson in her stride. Even prickly old Miss 'Ouiser (Sue Matthews) had a softer, serious side despite having most of the comedy lines, and when Annelle (Henri Bailey) got religion didn't we all?

The combination of ill-health, a life-endangering pregnancy and incipient kidney failure could have led to M'Lynn (Lesley McEwen) and Shelby (Luisa Mansi) enjoying more mawkish moments than a made-for-TV movie. However, both actors brought a depth to their mother and daughter relationship that allowed them room to explore the anger and frustration felt by everybody at some point towards those that they love the most.

This entire performance was all about the play being in the actors rather than the other way round. Without that it would have been just another cold night in Upper Basildon. Luckily we had a couple of hours at the beauty shop and if I didn't look any prettier when I left, then thanks to this cast and crew, I'm sure I had a glow about me.