NODA Review – BATS – Steel Magnolias 2018

Noda Review – September 2018

Author: Richard Fitt

Just as every Cinema/theatregoer will have a favourite director or actor, so the same can be said of Amateur theatre; and as I have shared the stage with one of the actors I knew I would be in for an enjoyable evening.

BATS are currently a nomadic group, not having a permanent home. The last time I saw them was in a large school hall with a huge stage, This time I found myself in a small Methodist Church with a raised platform serving as the small stage to hold all the paraphernalia of a hairdressing saloon for their latest production, Steel Magnolias. The seating which was practically full was all flats so not many rows had a particularly clear view of said stage, which was a pity because they had gone to a lot of trouble to set the scene.

With that said the set and props Designers, Rusty and Melanie Wilcox had done an amazing job. Wash basins (sadly I’m told, the planned running water had to be abandoned owing to a pump malfunction, ladies I can tell you it made no difference to my enjoyment of the evening) Salon chairs, mirrors, sofa, shelves and all the paraphernalia needed to run Truvy’s Beauty Salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, complete with well painted shop sign was intelligently placed on that tiny stage with enough space left for the actors to do their stuff. Nice work.

Lighting by Jonathon Wing lit the stage well and certainly helped create the steamy atmosphere of the deep south very well. However, it was obviously not easy in this makeshift theatre to just light the stage area and draw the audience in, as we found ourselves almost as well illuminated as the actors.

Sound by Tim Gardiner was excellent with the music and 80’s radio station particularly spot on and atmospheric. Not sure the gunshots were immediately and easily identified as gunshots though.  Perhaps it was my new hearing aids!

The play is set in Chinquapin, Louisiana between 1982 and 1984 and takes place entirely in the beauty Salon of Truvy Jones played here by Kerry Hewish. It follows the same plot of the film minus the male characters; even though they are referred to from time to time.  It opens with her hiring a young assistant, later to become a born-again Christian, Annelle Dupuy-Desoto (Erin Crockford) who has fallen on hard times after her husband has gone on the run from the police and left her penniless. Enter four regular customers, Clairee Belcher (Natashia Leftwich) the widow of the former Mayor, mother and daughter M’Lynn Eatenton (Melanie Wilcox) and Shelby Eatonton-Latcherie (Sarah Riley), a type one diabetic whose wedding day it is, to be joined later by the tour-deforce that is Ouiser Boudreaux (Kay Young), a belligerent but lovable, dominating, wealthy curmudgeon.

The action follows the lives of the 6 characters over the next two years as Shelby, against doctor’s advice become pregnant gives birth and how the tragic consequences of doing so affect all their lives.

This is a wordy play with relentless action and nonstop business and Director Melanie Wilcox did a top notch job of drilling her cast. I take my hat off to her for both taking on a major role and directing, not an easy task at the best of times! However, what she created was a top-quality team of actors playing off each other with real understanding. It really was like watching a group of people who had known each other for years and met regularly to indulge in the local gossip. They were all totally relaxed and comfortable in their own skins as well as with each other. It was an absolute joy to watch and what made the acting of the highest calibre was the way they were listening and reacting to each other all the time.  A perfect example was Ouiser being told her hands were like steaks, across the salon she went and put some hand cream on all the while still listening to the conversation still going on.  Seamless!  It really was a master class of reactive acting. Also a special mention for both Truvy and Annelle who really did carry out hair styling on the other actors throughout the play. What was also excellent was although each actor played homage to their original they didn’t fall into the trap of trying to clone them, each actress made the part their own in a measured and intelligent way. The final scene after (spoiler alert) Shelby’s death was so charged with emotion and the tension was so palpable, at least two of the cast were actually crying, that the audience literally exploded with laughter when Clairee pulled the stunt of suggesting M’Lynn should hit Ouiser,. You are unlikely to see better acting than that. It was a top team all round and it was a real pity that this show a was (owing to licencing problems) only scheduled for two performances, it deserved to run for weeks!

I came with the expectation of being entertained and I was not disappointed in anyway.