Jemima Levick on Steel Magnolias revival
The theatre director aims to retain the humour and tenderness of Robert Harling's original script
‘I would rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special,’ says Dolly Parton as brassy hairdresser Truvy in the 1989 film adaptation of Steel Magnolias. The country singer led a cast of big name Hollywood hitters that included Sally Field, Julia Roberts and Shirley MacLaine in the hit film, but fans may be surprised at how spare Robert Harling’s play (on which the movie is based) actually is, being set solely in Truvy’s Louisiana beauty parlour, with each of his gutsy characters sharing their pasts, futures, hopes and dreams.
Now, director Jemima Levick believes the funny, sad play is a perfect fit for the Dundee Rep ensemble. ‘It’s a very simple story that focuses on love, friendship and support, and the warmth and simplicity that holds these women together,’ she says.
Levick was drawn too by the idea of working with an all-female cast, including Barbara Rafferty (River City, Rab C Nesbitt) who takes on the role of Clairee, immortalised on screen by Olympia Dukakis. And while she admits she’s spent the day in rehearsals crying over some of the more tender moments in the script, Levick’s keen for audiences to engage with the humour and era of the script.
‘It’s lovely being able to transport yourself back to a certain era, and the Deep South is a fantastic place to capture. There was something so joyous and fun about Dolly Parton’s bouffant hair, and the madness of the fashions of the time.
‘Even when I was reading the script for the tenth time, I was laughing – the dry humour of the script is what removes it from unbearable sentimentality.’
Sort of chick lit theatre for a contemporary audience then?
‘I suppose it can fall into what I call “knickers theatre”,’ concedes Levick with a laugh. ‘But the observations are all there so hopefully there’s something for everyone.’
Dundee Rep, Wed 22 Feb–Sat 10 Mar.