CHATS Productions’ performance of ‘Steel Magnolias’ delights Coffs Harbour audiences

The cast of ‘Steel Magnolias’ on stage. Photo: Tom Caldwell.


CHATS Productions returned to the Jetty Memorial Theatre stage for the first time since the pandemic restrictions were applied last year with their production of Robert Harling’s ‘Steel Magnolias’.

This play is something of a slow burn, with lovely moments of light and shade during most of the story, and then going through an intense and climactic emotional evolution in the final scene.

With only six actors on stage, the workload for each person is demanding, and these ladies handled it with aplomb.

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The early tension and banter between Shelby and M’Lynn is carried off beautifully in the context of Truvy’s gossipy light-heartedness, Annelle’s anxious uncertainty, Clairee’s reassuringly sensible outlook, and Ouiser’s aggressive assertiveness, all clearly defined by the actors in the first act.

As the play progressed the individual portrayals and development of the characters was impressive.

The two younger actors, Emily Branster as Shelby and Emily Cooper as Annelle impressed with their well-crafted personas, never seeming false and always delivering just the right level of pathos and total engagement.

The two almost larger than life characters of Truvy, played by Jenny Garratt, and Ouiser, played by Mel Winkler, metaphorically jumped off the stage with crackling energy and practiced timing, bringing us squarely into small town USA.

Virginia Craze as Clairee maintained a dignity of character that helped to anchor the emotional ups and downs and brought her own touch to the final very intense scene.

And Laura Smith delivered the perfect mother’s role as M’Lynn, playing the strong, quiet and thoughtful foil to Shelby’s determined optimism, and then presenting the most mesmerising and deeply moving scene in the denouement.

The phrase ‘you will laugh, and you will cry’ is often used in relation to this story, and was certainly true of this production, with both reactions coming so close together that they were magnified by that juxtaposition.

Director Donna Fairall and her team have put together a lovely return to the theatre for CHATS, with audiences thoroughly enjoying the performances.

The show finishes on Sunday 28 March, tickets are available at the theatre or from


By David TUNE

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