Steel Magnolias at The Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham REVIEW: 'It felt like I was sat right there in the salon'

The cast of Portchester Players' production of Steel Magnolias at The Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham, November 2019.'Back from left: Hayley Smither, Becky Garnett, Jacquie Arnott; front from left: Sue Rourke, Katie Winter, Kerri Jeffrey
The cast of Portchester Players' production of Steel Magnolias at The Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham, November 2019.'Back from left: Hayley Smither, Becky Garnett, Jacquie Arnott; front from left: Sue Rourke, Katie Winter, Kerri Jeffrey
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It was a night of firsts for me at the Ashcroft Centre. The first time I’d been to the venue for anything other than comedy, the first time I’d watched the Portchester Players and the first time I’d seen Steel Magnolias.

Robert Harling’s play was adapted into the popular film, featuring Sally Field and Julia Roberts in 1989. It all takes place in Truvy Jones’ beauty salon where the local women of Chinquapin, Louisiana, gather to muddle through life’s obstacles, while having a lot of laughs.

All six female cast members were fantastic; all rightly earning big laughs from the crowd. As Truvy, Sue Rourke channelled Dolly Parton to perfection. Kerri Jeffrey’s comic timing was spot on and it was hard to take your eyes off Hayley Milton when she made her hilarious entrance as Ouiser. 

Jacqueline Arnott, the chair of the society, was delightful as M’Lynn and Katie Winter melted hearts as her daughter, Shelby. The relationship was very convincing and both handled the difficult plot points incredibly well.

Finally, Becky Garnett impressed as the town’s newcomer Annelle. Her on-stage crying is genuinely the best I’ve ever seen.

That’s right, it’s a bit of a weepy. 

The cast managed to get several audience members in tears judging from the sniffing throughout the auditorium at the end.

I was most impressed with how caught up in the show I was. I forgot I was at the theatre as it felt like I was sat right there in the salon, such were the captivating performances under the brilliant direction of Mary-Rose Finden. Special mention must also go to the set designers as it looked fantastic.

I’m off to finally watch the film, but Sally and Julia had better watch out because Portchester Players have set the bar very high!

Until Saturday.