Tag Archives: Sarah Mahony

Steel Magnolias

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 21 September)

Woman may be a delicate blossom, like the white flowers for which Robert Harling named his 1987 play, but women are infinitely less fragile, hence the second word in the title Steel Magnolias. We are in small-town Louisiana in the south of the USA, specifically in a hair-dressing salon. Its proprietor is Truvvy (Sarah Mahony) and she’s just taken on a new-to-town assistant Annelle (Lucy Wells) – a born-again Christian.

The clientle is a faithfull one, using the salon as a neutral meeting-ground, rather like a club. There’s a former mayor’s wealthy widow Clairee (Tina Gray), the slightly eccentric dog-loving Ouiser (Gillian Cally) and mother and daughter M’Lynn (Claire Storey) and Shelby (Gemma Salter).

Shelby is about to be married; she’s also a diabetic. In her mother’s view, the two do not go together, as we see during the course of the drama which coves two-and-a-half years in four scenes. Director Liz Marsh and designers Dinah England (set and costumes) and Chris Howcroft (lighting) take us to the time and place and through the seasons with considerable style and dialect coach Richard Ryder has done sterling work.

The trouble is that those soft Southern inflections are not easily projected into the auditorium. So, though all the performances are very good in themselves, Storey’s long speech in the fourth scene didn’t really come across with all its painful recollection until its peroration.

Which is a pity as by this point we are thoroughly engaged in the human tragedy as well as with the personal crises of various types with which the characters are involved and which they manage to resolve collectively and with considerable finesse through a policy of give and take.

Steel Magnolias runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 10 October.

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Hot Stuff

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 26 May)

You could run a debate which would go on for even longer than the recent General Election campaign on precisely what the time lapse is – a decade? two? three? a half-century? – before the soft, warm glow of nostalgia settles on a period of history.

Take Hot Stuff, given a spankingly bright and brash new staging by director Matt Devitt and his team – music: julian Littmann, lighting: Chris Howcroft, costumes: Lydia Hardiman and choreography: Valentina Dolci and Karl Stevens. Maggie Norris and Paul Kerryson devised it over 25 years ago; it’s a variation on the Faust legend.

Our want-it-all, want-it-now hero is Joe (Matthew Quinn). His ambition is to be a pop star but his girl-friend Julie (Sarah Mahony) just wants to get married – and to win a ballroom dancing competition in spits of Joe’s less than enthusiastic partnering. Diabolus ex machina is Lucy Fur – the deliciously over-the-top drag artist Lady Felicia in a sequence of costumes to pit any pantomime dame to the blush.

In fact, there’s a strong pantomime element about the whole thing, including a cow who seems to have wandered in from Jack and the Beanstalk and, like that bovine, elicits our full sympathy. As with many pantomimes, one is conscious of an element of padding, often supplied through interaction with the audience.
That’s not to belittle Dolci’s dance routines, in which she leads her six ensemble members with verve and inventiveness, or Cameron Jones’ sinister narrator.

it is interesting to follow the mutation of popular music in the 70s (a political parallel is implied at several points). The melodic and harmonic ballads dissolve into something altogether more raucous as the decade progressed. Joe, of course, manages to top each trend as it assumes popularity with considerable help from his Lucy Fur-supplied girl friend Miss Hot Stuff (Hollie Cassar).

“Happiness was not in the contract” he’s told brusquely when he begins to yearn for Julie. In the meantime, Julie has made her own life emerging into flower-power and the flame of awakening feminism. Mahony, Cassar and Quinn all give good performances. I think the first-night audience would have been happy to sit through it all again. The performers must have been exhausted.

Hot Stuff runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 13 June.

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Plays

Boeing! Boeing!
(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 9 March)

Comedy is as old as drama itself and the variation we call farce is probably its original manifestation. Farce in the UK is a well-established, well-loved genre which has developed in a peculiarly British way from Charley’s Aunt in the 1890s through the Aldwych (1930s) and the Whitehall seasons in the 1950s and 60s to Ayckbourn and Frayn in our own time.

Then there’s French farce, its sister – but not an identical twin. Many of the elements are identical – a multitude of doors revealing or concealing people (usually girls in a distinct state of undress) while at least one hapless man tries ever more frantically to control events of which he never really was the master in the first place.

Both the British and French versions rely on the actors’ split-second timing and sense of ensemble. It helps if at least the protagonist has a clown’s miming ability. Which brings me to Matt Devitt’s production of Marc Camoletti’s Boeing! Boeing! at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch.

The plot concerns a Parisian man-about-town in the early 1960s who is basking in the fly-by attentions of three air hostesses (remember that this was a time when to be an air stewardess was as high a profile job as that of model or television presenter is today). Each thinks she’s his only “fiancée” (the Beverley Cross translation is of its era), thanks to Bernard’s canny manipulation of timetables.

Enter Robert, an old school friend up from the country on business who – not unnaturally – is riveted by this boulevardier lifestyle. Fred Broom plays increasingly harassed Bernard and Tom Cornish is Robert, puppy-dog eager to be involved and whose well-meaning attempts to help only – of course – make matters worse.

Then there’s Bertha (Megan Leigh Mason), Bernard’s maid, who becomes increasingly frustrated as timetables go awry. Bridging the gap between what would have been the first two acts, she earned her round of applause. The three contrasted air hostesses are go-getting Gloria (Ellie Rose Boswell) from TWA, Lufthansa’s valkyrie Gretchen (Joanna Hickman) and spirited Gabriella of Air Italia (Sarah Mahony).

Norman Coates’ set is another excellent one with clever projections and animations before the performance to remind us of time and place. His costumes are also spot-on. What rather lets it all flag, for all the cast’s hard work, is that the production lacks both the slick lightness of classic French farce and the knowingness of the home-grown British variety.

I’ve seen other productions of Boeing! Boeing! in the last couple of years where, for me, this hasn’t been an issue. This time it was one.

Boeing! Boeing! runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 28 March.

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