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September 24, 2015
The excellent cast directed by Liz Marsh in Steel Magnolias at the Queen's Theatre

The excellent cast directed by Liz Marsh in Steel Magnolias at the Queen’s Theatre. Picture. Mark Sepple

One of the most powerful pieces of theatre seen in Hornchurch for a long time is creating a tsunami of emotion telling a story rich in heart break.

Steel Magnolias elegantly directed by Liz Marsh, stars six women actors each creating a fascinating window on a true life story about Diabetes, that in two hours does more to advance public awareness of the condition than any advertising campaign.

Skilfully written by Robert Harding, and starring Caire Storey, Gemma Salter, Sarah Mahony, Lucy Wells Tina Gray and Gillian Cally, it is a story based on his sister Susan, and his mother, both of whom he describes as: ‘possessing a tensile strength’ in dealing with type one Diabetes that eventually claimed Susan’s life.

It is a story of tragedy and the way the two women deal with it; a brilliantly observed piece of writing that delves into all the hidden strengths of the characters, with echoes of similar suffering the world over and putting rigid demands on the actors.

Never lacking, the Billet Lane professional company has surpassed itself with this production, with excellent performances on stage and two absolutely outstanding pieces of acting skill from Claire Storey and Gemma Salter.

Playing the main characters, mother M’Lynn, and daughter Shelby, Claire and Gemma take the auditorium through an edge of seat rollercoaster journey of emotions as the condition develops towards a tragic conclusion.

Forgive the cliché, but it does not get better than this.

The rapport between these two is constant and full of electric energy where every expression and look tells of the pain the characters are feeling, skilfully transmitted and beautifully enhancing each word with so much meaning.

Such a rich story not only depends on the actors skills but the location, and where better than an American Beauty Parlour in downtown Louisiana.

This environment and discussions between women is hidden from mere males, but is a perfect background for a group of friends enamoured in female sensitivity, strength and courage in adversity.

Readers could be forgiven for thinking this is a two handed play, but the untold strength of the production is in the foundations created by the other actors.

Sarah Mahony as the ebullient parlour owner, Truvy, a well thought out characterisation that I imaged is cloned from any such establishment.

She was bright, busy, kind and sincere in her need for juicy gossip.

One line from the play that sums up the way gossip is dealt with is: ‘ If you can’t say anything nice about someone, come and sit next to me.’

Tina Gray, first appeared in Hornchurch in 1971 at the Old Queen’s Theatre in Station Lane. This time round she played the Grandee of the parlour, Clairee, who had a delightful way of dealing with humour and sadness in a remarkable characterisation that was a joy to watch.

Lucy Wells played the apprentice hairdresser Annelie, cleverly turning her bumbling adolescent character into a God fearing Christian so full of goodness that spilled out of every pore. A really nice piece of work.

Gillian Cally was the welly booted Blue Mountain homestead character who added such value to the set and curlers. She was so outlandish and stood out like the statue of Liberty smoking a corn cob pipe. Gillian’s characterisation was superbly balanced between TV’s Ma Clampet and Popeye’s Olive Oyl with feelings.

One other point I normally question is the accents and American deep south does not always flow well off the English palate, but I must compliment Dialect Coach Richard Ryder for an excellent job, with the actors making it sound so natural.

This production of Steel Magnolias is one that I cannot recommend highly enough. The acting is west end quality and demands to be seen. If nothing else, this amount of effort and excellence deserves a run of full houses.

The play runs until Saturday October 10 with tickets from the theatre Box office on 01708 443333

Diabetes is a condition long publicly associated with a lump of sugar remedy. It is anything but and a killer that needs much more public awareness and support.

Joe Braeger from Harold Hill suffers from type one Diabetes and advised the actors on the condition; he also runs a local Diabetic group.

Getting the message across is a self imposed mission he embarked on many years ago when he was diagnosed, and still carries the torch. This production goes a long way to achieving it looking at the sorrowful faces emerging from the auditorium.

For more details:


Telephone/Fax: 01708 331746


Like the play, it is an eye opening experience to be made aware of this lurking killer that can strike anywhere and anytime.

From → Entertainment

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