Monday, June 29, 2009
A BLACKBIRD PRODUCTION: STEEL MAGNOLIAS by Robert Harling at the Seymour Centre.
“In the haven of Truvy’s beauty salon, six very different women come together to share their secrets and bare their souls, throwing in a little neighbourly gossip for good measure. From weddings to divorces, babies to funerals, new beginnings to happy endings, they weather every event in their lives with grace, determination, and perfectly coiffed hair. When tragedy strikes, it is in the familiar comfort of Truvy’s salon where they seek the solace and support that carries them through.” So goes the synopsis in the program notes. This is a fairly well known play, with a great track record of popularity and then translated to film for a similarly successful response. Mr Harling’s other notable work includes THE FIRST WIVES CLUB, THE EVENING STAR and a hilarious if not quite right satire called SOAPDISH. (All films of a certain genre – I should have taken warning!!!)
I had never seen any of this work’s previous incarnations. I came to it “a virgin”. What drew me to this production was the casting, particularly, the chance to see, with due respect, some of the great “war horses” of theatrical talent of my times in the theatre. Especially Jacki Weaver, Jennifer Hagan and Geraldine Turner. Not only was I excited by the prospect of them individually but as a collective team. I anticipated a rollicking and positively ‘naughty’ time of these three hugely talented and gifted actresses strutting their stuff on stage. I was not disappointed by them. It was the play that they had to work with, that unfortunately, shows its old fashioned ‘creakiness’ at almost every turning point in its narrative structure and plotting of ‘homespun’ humour. Afternoon television at its gentlest and most obvious – writing that is of a by gone time –already!!!! Without these three women on stage the play would hardly have been alive. It demands skill of a very special and seasoned type, Ms Weaver, Hagan and Turner have it in bucket loads. (Chutzpah as well.) Supported by Ana Maria Belo, Marian Frizelle and Debra Lawrance (who was especially good, up until her final scene – it needs centring and stillness, in my estimation.), the performances are the reason to go. I should note that the audience, mostly women, seemed to respond empathetically to the piece and were moved, some of them to a few tears, by the journey of the characters.
The costumes by Claire Moloney are very good support for the delineation of character and their journey through the four scenes of the play’s time structure. The details pertinent and witty. The Direction by Darren Yap is efficient, if not very inventive. All in all, the other production values are similarly pragmatic, useful and right, just not very exciting (–a dinosaur of a set that I thought only a museum would show.)
On reflection, I recently commented that Steve Rodgers’ play, SAVAGE RIVER, at the Griffin Stables was old fashioned, but upon encountering STEEL MAGNOLIAS in 2009 one can see the advance of writing and expectations one has grown used to over the passing of time. It is true of last year’s production of CODGERS out at Riverside as well, where the play was not ground breaking in any of its details but had a contemporary discipline and mode of attention grabbing (it too had a cast of great pedigree well worth the effort to see them strutting their stuff: Ron Falk, Ron Haddrick, Teddy Hodgemen, Henry Szeps, Graham Rouse and Jon Lam.)
STEEL MAGNOLIAS is a gentle commercial piece of theatre well done. The producer’s Suzie Franke & Matthew Henderson of BLACKBIRD PRODUCTIONS have “the invaluable support of Playing Australia and Arts Victoria” that “will ensure that many Australians will” see this play “over the coming six months at 30 venues nationally”. Terrific that it is happening. I hope the targeted audience come in droves. It is, as one of the characters say “women’s territory” but I had pleasure in seeing six women on stage getting the opportunity to strut their skills and their love of performing. SIX WOMEN, how amazing is that.