Chelmsford Theatre Workshop at The Old Court
We hear the hairspray first – the background hiss to the 80s, era of shoulder pads and huge hair.
Robert Harling's heart-felt comedy is set in “women's territory”: Truvy's beauty shop in deepest Louisiana. There, the “ladies of the neighborhood” gather to share secrets and offer support.
The play is an entertaining cocktail of issues and one-liners. The six characters are well observed, and each was given a near-perfect performance by the CTW team.
Rebecca Errington's gauche trainee was a wonderful comedy creation, hyperventilating, doing good hair, getting religion and hilariously mangling the already ripe Southern vowels. Clairee – “too twisted for color tv” - was Sarah Bell, and Naomi Phillips held the stage magnificently as the proprietrix of the little salon.
Shelby, whose diabetes gives the piece its pathos, was touchingly done by Emma Moriaty; her possessive, protective mother was beautifully played by Sally Ransom, who took the audience with her as her emotions veered from despair, to determination to searing rage.
Christine Davidson had some of the best lines as Miss Ouiser, the mad old bat who's been in a bad mood for forty years, but reveals her caring side when tragedy strikes.
Jenny Almond and Catherine Kenton gave us a polished production, which brought out the best in this play, all set in a convincing salon, with a practical basin and a fourth wall covered in “reflective surfaces”.
photograph by Sally Jane Ransom: Christine Davidson [or is that Meryl Streep?] Rebecca Errington, Naomi Phillips, Sarah Bell
Jim Hutchon's review for the Chelmsford Weekly News:
CTW’s production of the gossip-ridden beauty parlour has a highly-developed sense of time and place, and is a superb recreation of the comfort-zone women inhabit when together in confidence. Directed by Jenny Almond and Catherine Kenton, the parlour is presided over by an authoritative and kindly Naomi Phillips, playing the owner Truvy. The two richest inhabitants of the town, Clairee and Ouiser – played respectively by Sarah Bell and Christine Davidson – act up their confidences and insecurities with bravado and understanding and provide width and depth to an otherwise paper-thin narrative.
The narrative is pure 19th Century melodrama, where Emma Moriaty, in a sensitive and brave performance as Shelby, is a vulnerable Type 1 diabetic seen first preparing for her wedding, then unwisely becoming pregnant against medical advice and subsequently expiring from kidney failure.
The accents, on the whole, are believable Southern drawl, with the exception of the strangled tones of Rebecca Errington, the assistant hairdresser, whose accent is from no part of the US that I have visited, but who is such a natural comic that I laughed anyway. Principal acting plaudits must go to newcomer Sally Ransom, as the tragic mother of Shelby, whose quiet dignity developed through the play. Her burst of anger left the audience stunned, and will remain with me for a long time.
The men have a uniformly bleak press and never appear on stage. One is only intent on shooting things, another is on the run from the law and the new husband can’t cope with his wife’s illness in hospital and makes a run for it. Although possibly past its sell-by date as a feminist icon, this is a funny, sad and touching play which repays the attention the audience give it.
It is running for a second week from 14th– 17th April. Box Office is 01245 606505.