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Southern comfort goes down a treat with a dash of bitter-sweet humour

Steel Magnolias, Allesley Village Hall, Coventry, until February 18.

There are some terrific one-liners in Robert Harling's play Steel Magnolias, which transports audiences in Allesley village hall over to the state of Louisiana in the 1980s.

The cast of The Saints theatre group handle this bitter-sweet drama and all those Deep South accents pretty well as six women gather in their local beauty salon.

Steel Magnolias had its stage premiere in New York in 1987 before film-makers saw its potential for strong female roles and produced a popular screen version starring Dolly Parton.

The Saints use the original screenplay with Lynne Jones confidently holding court as salon owner Truvy, who sprays hair within an inch of its life and drawls: "There is no such thing as natural beauty".

Lynne is the lynchpin of this play and handled the occasional missed line during the first performances with such speed and discretion that most of the audience wouldn't have noticed.

Then there's Lucinda Toomey having the time of her life as the eccentric Ouiser in a range of mad hats.

Ouiser declares that she hates tomatoes but grows them anyway because that's just what you're expected to do in Louisiana and she didn't make the rules.

Younger cast members Eleanor Hill (Shelby) and Megan Holland (Annelle) have more complex roles but grow in confidence throughout the action, while Juliana Swain (Clairee) and Kate Hill (M'Lynn) put in assured performances to complete this ensemble piece directed by Bill Parkinson.

A timepiece of vintage humour where sons "coming out" as gay prepare their parents for the shock by first saying they have a brain tumour. Naturally once mum and dad have come to terms with that bombshell anything less than death has to be a relief.

I hadn't been to The Saints before - but I am already making a date to go to their next production in May. And they give you free tea and biscuits in the interval.

Pictured above are (left to right) Kate Hill, Megan Holland, Juliana Swain, Ellie Hill, Lynne Jones, and Lucinda Toomey.


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