Steel Magnolias

Written by Robert Harling

Thursday 17th Nov to Saturday 19th Nov & Tuesday 22nd Nov to Saturday 26th Nov 2011

Directed by Megan Green

A beauty parlour somewhere in Louisiana and six Southern ladies face life's toughest challenges - the gamut of friendship, marriage, birth and death. Can the lighthearted normality of daily trivia steer them away from these heart-wrenching realities to help them cope in the face of tragedy? Sparkling, hilarious and witty, Robert Harling was inspired by his sister to write this moving comedy which went on to achieve big screen success. This Bench Theatre production promises to be strong and emotive - a reminder of the human ability to overcome in the face of adversity - handkerchiefs at the ready!

AuthorRobert Harling

Robert Harling (b 1951)

Robert Harling was born in Dothan, Alabama and grew up in Natchitoches, Louisiana. He graduated from the Northwestern University and studied law at Tulane Law School, after which he moved to New York to pursue an acting career. Harling made his directorial debut with 'The Evening Star' for Paramount, which he also wrote for the screen based on Larry McMurtry's novel. As a writer, he is best known for his play 'Steel Magnolias'. As a screenwriter he wrote the screenplays to the films 'Soapdish', 'The First Wives Club' and 'Laws of Attraction'.

PlaySteel Magnolias

Robert Harling was an aspiring actor in 1985, when his younger sister, who suffered from diabetes, died. As her best friend and closest sibling, Harling found it difficult to cope with her death. His friends advised him to write about his feelings as a coping method. It began as a short story and evolved into a full-length play due to the complexity of the relationships and emotions that existed within the characters. The resulting play; 'Steel Magnolias', remains his most famous work. The screenplay was completed in 10 days and Harling went on to later adapt it for the film version which was produced in 1989 starring Sally Field and Julia Roberts. In it, he played a small role as a minister.

The play is set in a hairdressing salon in the American deep south in the 1980's in the fictional town of Chinquapin. The story centres around the lives of six different women, who come together in the salon to share their secrets, fears and love for one another. When tragedy strikes, it is in the familiar comfort of Truvy's salon where they seek the solace and support that carries them through. Harling felt it important to include the way the characters utilised humour and lighthearted conversations to cope with the seriousness of the underlying situations. He wanted the audience to have a true experience of what his family endured during his sister's hospitalisation. One of the ways he did this was by employing the nurses, doctors and other hospital staff that worked with his sister as characters in the movie portraying their real-life roles.

The Bench Production

Steel Magnolias poster image

This play was staged at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre (formerly Havant Arts Centre), East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


TruvyAlice Corrigan
M'LynnSue Dawes
ShelbyClaire Lyne
AnnelleJo Gardner
OuisierIngrid Corrigan
ClaireeSharon Morris
Radio DJ (voice)Pete Woodward


Director Megan Green
Producer Derek Callam
Stage Manager Sharman Callam
Assistant Stage Manager Beth Evans
Lighting Design Phil Hanley
Lighting Operation Maurice Lillie, Jacquie Penrose
Sound Design Phil Hanley
Sound Operation Helen Young
Set Design Pete Woodward
Programme Editor Derek Callam
Photography Dan Finch


Remote GoatJill Lawrie

A moving warm hearted comedy

The talented Bench Theatre guarantee wide ranging and challenging productions that include classics, contemporary and their own home-grown works. Their latest play "Steel Magnolias" and in 2012 "The Seafarer", "Cymbeline" and Yasmina Reza's "Life x 3" endorse this fact.

Robert Harling's drama was inspired by the death of his diabetic younger sister and is set in a Louisiana beauty salon. Proprietor Truvy, her young assistant and four regular clients that cover a broad age range, chatter away about daily trivia, family and the wider issues that life throws up, and leading to a tragic scenario. The support and loyalty shown to each other by this small band of woman is both moving and inspiring. The 1989 film version hosted a star line up that included Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine and Daryl Hannah.

Megan Green, a seasoned performed with the company, is directing a full length play for the first time. Using a wonderfully furnished/cluttered set with well sourced props, the half dozen female cast members cope admirably with the American accent and phrases, never faltering throughout. Alice Corrigan takes the lead and gives a compelling performance as salon owner Truvy, while Jo Gardner excels as her shy new assistant Annelle gradually gaining confidence and then finding God! Claire Lyne (Shelby) portrays a vulnerability as she shifts between excitement and facing up to her terminal illness, delivering the classic line to her mother that she "would rather have 30 minutes wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special".

A thoroughly enjoyable production of a warm-hearted comedy tracing the intricacies of life's rich tapestry of loss, heartbreak, religion and love all executed by a strong accomplished cast.

Jill Lawrie, Remote Goat, November 2011


EchoKaren Robson

Steel Magnolias, Bench Theatre

Tissues were handed out with the programmes, a clear indication of the trajectory of this drama with comedy.

While the comedy at times seemed a little understated, despite the one-liners generally hitting the mark, the dramatic arc was beautifully developed and there were quite a few tears as the play reached its poignant conclusion.

As the titular steel magnolias the six actresses projected distinct characters, sassy, realistically frail and strong, yet avoiding the clicheto which some might easily be prey. The cast worked well together, creating a palpable chemistry and believable dynamics of a group of friends.

Alice Corrigan was charming as the big hearted, gossipy Truvy Jones, whose beauty salon was the heart of the action. Sue Dawes' M'Lynn Eatenton was dignified and serene, making her last act grief and rage all the more affecting.

Karen Robson, Daily Echo, Novemver 2011


Production Photographs