Review: Dronfield Players’ production of Steel Magnolias

Chris Davis, Penny Coster, Janet Black, Rachael Hope, Bridgette Rouse and Margaret Harrison, left to right, in Steel Magnolias.
Chris Davis, Penny Coster, Janet Black, Rachael Hope, Bridgette Rouse and Margaret Harrison, left to right, in Steel Magnolias.

Equal opportunities make women the omnipotent force in this week’s production by Dronfield Players.

The company’s autumn production in its 70th year is Steel Magnolias, following on from the male-dominated Dad’s Army in the springtime.

The female touch brings a gentler, more thought-provoking piece to the stage at Dronfield Civic Hall.

Steel Magnolias is a weepie which will have you reaching for a very big box of tissues, although a light-hearted U-turn means you won’t be sniffling for long during the final scene.

Powerful characterisations from every one of the six performers balance everyday foible and mundane matters with a life-changing turn of events, enabling female viewers to identify with at least one member of the close-knit community.

As is to be expected in a hair salon in which the play is set, the characters spend a lot of time sitting around chatting, resulting in a marathon task on the line-learning front, Give or take an occasional stumble early on in the performance last night (Thursday, November 21) all rise to the challenge admirably.

Guest vocal coach Susan Cross has drilled her pupils well, resulting in convincing American accents. I particularly liked the slight drawl which Bridgette Rouse gave to salon assistant Annelle’s voice which pointed up the simple, but lovable character.

Top honours go to Janet Black playing the efficient, no-nonsense M’Lynn whose well-organised life is hit by a curveball when her diabetic daughter needs a new kidney. Having gone through the trauma of transplant in which she donates the vital organ to her offspring, M’Lynn then has to tackle the tragedy of losing the most precious person in her life. Janet’s impassioned speech in which she rails against the injustice of fate snatching away a loved one before her time is worth the ticket price alone. The scene was so powerfully done last night that Bridgette Rouse and Chris Davis, in the role of no-nonsense Ouiser,looked like they were crying genuine tears.

Rachael Hope in the role of daughter Shelby lights up the stage like the Christmas tree which appears in the second scene. She plays a bubbly, full of hope young mum whose zest for life is infectious, making it all the more tragic when the audience discover in the final scene that Shelby has died.

Margaret Harrison as salon boss Truvy brings light relief to proceedings with some of the best comic lines in a major performance which sees her on stage for much of the show.

And Penny Coster in the role of salon client Clairee spices up the everyday conversation with colourful stories of family indiscretions.

The set is a work of art depicting a homely salon, complete with running water, armchairs and photos of models with big hair circa the original Charlie’s Angels era.

Gunshots, dog barks and radio tunes puncutate the absorbing, lengthy, play which is directed by Paul Black and runs until Saturday, November 23.

The players’ next production will be Hobson’s Choice, which will be staged from April 2 to 5, 2014.

Meanwhile, they are in urgent need of dry and secure storage space in Dronfield for their flats, props and costumes in return for a nominal fee. If you can help, contact David Roe on 01246 415084 or 07958 630355.