Steel Magnolias

Feb 15 2018 | By More

★★★☆☆    Emotionally charged

Edinburgh Academy: Wed 14 – Sat 17 Feb 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

There’s strong wit and a spark of real anger to Blackout Productions’ take on Steel Magnolias at the Magnusson Centre in the Edinburgh Academy to Saturday.

The company might have a short pedigree – this is only its third outing over five years – but director Gabrielle Pavone-Clark has has assembled a company which has plenty of talent and experience to cope with the demands of Robert Harding’s celebrated play.

Judith Neeson, Anne Mackenzie, Hannah Cumming and Denise Treanor in rehearsal. Pic: Blackout Productions

Set in a fictional American deep south Louisiana town, but based on very real observations, the play follows six women who meet every Saturday morning in the local salon, the Beauty Spot. And if the opening scene feels somewhat superficial, the subsequent three scenes over as many years carry plenty of punch and emotional twists.

At the centre of the play is the Beauty Spot’s owner, Truvy. While she doesn’t go through quite the same transformations or emotional turmoil as her Saturday morning clients, she is the kind of brazenly self-confident woman who knows all about hard work and carrying a deadbeat husband.

Denise Treanor has just about everything needed to carry off the role. She has a strong physical presence and a real subtlety about her, whether it is her mix of exasperation and longing for gossip from her mysterious newly recruited stylist, Annelle, or keeping the peace between soon-to-be-wed Shelby and her mother M’Lynn.

Treanor bustles around her salon with a real air of authority but doesn’t dominate as the conversation flows back and forth. Indeed, Pavone-Clark’s direction is beautifully understanding of the natural ebb and flow of conversation and banter, ensuring that the focus moves naturally around the room in what could, in other hands, become very static.


If there is any real fault with the production, it is that the opening scene doesn’t gel as it might. Anne Mackenzie’s M’Lynn doesn’t quite ring true as being as hard-as-nails as she is painted, while Hannah Cumming rather overdoes it, laying Annelle’s nervousness on with a trowel where there is room for a lot more subtlety.

However, the comedy of the act is played up just as much as it should be, whether it is the gradual discovery of Annelle’s past, the slow revelation of friction between M’Lynn’s husband with their daft old neighbour Ouiser (Norma Kinnear in great form), or the imperiousness of Carole McGirr as recently widowed Clairee.

While Harding manages to keep his audience guessing over who the real subject of the drama is going to be – if they haven’t seen the 1989 movie that is – Judith Neeson just gets on with making a brilliant Shelby.

Neeson has just the right mix of gutsiness and frailty, so you intrinsically believe her determination to carry on her own course when it comes to her wedding, no matter what her mother might decree. The introduction of her diabetes is excellently crafted, both in Neeson’s performance and the reactions of the rest of the cast.


The production team has done a nice job in creating the chintz pinkness of the Beauty Spot. If it is often more of suggestion at the hairdressing salon than the real thing, it works fine. You know exactly where you are, just as you do with the company’s Southern accents.

If the opening scene is not quite as solid as it might be, the company provide enough character and development over the course of the play so you become to know and understand these cantankerous, loyal women.

None more so that Anne Mackenzie who puts in a properly magnificent performance when it is needed. She displays a real understanding of emotion and pace, letting things die down almost to a whisper before getting out all her big emotions and laying them bare.

Thirty years after it was first performed, Steel Magnolias is still a brilliant script. And Blackout do it justice in a production which will surely grow and mature over its four performances.

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes (one interval)
Edinburgh Academy, 42 Henderson Row, EH3 5BL
Wednesday 14 – Saturday 17 February 2018
Evening Wed – Fri: 7.30pm; Sat, matinee only: 2.30pm.
Details and tickets:

Blackout Productions on facebook: @blackoutproductions.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Ritchie Walker says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable, well done Blackout Productions.

  2. Simon Peers says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed it an excellent example of ensemble playing and loved the one liners ! The cast should be be very pleased as it all worked. Don’t want to pick out anyone in particular as it was all to a very high standard. You felt as though you were really there!