Type 1 Takeover Tuesdays: Steel Magnolias Theatrical Review & Tribute

I have something a little bit different for you this week as part of my ‘Type 1 Takeover Tuesday’ guest writer series. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been chatting to a lovely lady named Helen, who blogs over on entertainment-related blog ‘Break A Leg‘. She’s been telling me all about Steel Magnolias, a film/show that is close to her heart for a number of different reasons, which you’ll read more about in a second.

Steel Magnolias is a film starring Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah and Dolly Parton, and focuses heavily on Julia Roberts’ Type 1 Diabetic character. Last year, Helen caught the play-version of the film in Islington, which is up for an award, and she wants to tell us all about it! She loved it so much that she went to see it again for a second time! Now if you’re a close follower of my blog, or even if you’ve only got as far as my About Us page, you’ll be aware that I work in a theatre during the day, when I’m not busy writing. As you can imagine, on receiving a guest post proposal combining two important aspects of my life (the theatre and Type 1 Diabetes), I snatched the chance while I could, before anyone else took it!

via GIPHY

Anyway, I’m going to shut up now before I give too much away! So, without further ado, please give a round of applause to Helen and her exciting guest post!

Steel Magnolias is a film that was released in the 1980’s, which I will always remember fondly. Steel Magnolias the stage version is entirely different – in that as a piece of theatre it has had a profound effect on me. It also linked in with a real-life tragedy, the symbolism of which evaded me until just after a landmark occasion for my entertainment website took place.

Theatre-going has been as much a part of my life as switching on the television and becoming engrossed in a good programme. I was taken to the theatre from a relatively young age as my parents were active theatre-goers. I picked up from where they left off as they almost certainly feel that they have ‘seen it all’ now and no longer frequent the theatre as they once did. My love of theatre led me to become a theatre critic for an online publication back in 2012 and from there I set up my own theatre review blog ‘Break A Leg’, which is another story in itself and something I enjoy nurturing to this day.

Having seen so many different shows on stage, be it at my local theatre or in the West End, I had started to become rather uninspired and nothing was grabbing me to renew the passion I have always had for live performance. Then, I started to review off-west end shows and began to engage in fringe theatre-going.

Steel Magnolias was among the first of many shows that I saw in a small auditorium, in this case, The Hope Theatre in Islington. Although I loved the film, I had no preconceived ideas of what to expect from the play. I had interviewed the mother and daughter of the piece, who were being portrayed by Stephanie Beattie and Samantha Shellie and that had provided me with some insight into what to expect, so I was quite excited to see a film I knew so well played out in a 50-seater auditorium.

Steel Magnolias Starring Stephanie Beattie, Jo Wickham, Samantha Shellie, Maggie Robson, Lin Sagovsky

Cutting a long story short, I took the show to my heart and it reached out to me in ways I could never have predicted. I was also blown away by the six-strong all female cast (Stephanie Beattie, Ariel Harrison, Maggie Robson, Lin Sagovsky, Samantha Shellie and Jo Wickham) who carried the production flawlessly and all of whom I have kept either an eye on or in touch with since. Matthew Parker, the director of the show should take credit for ably assisting me to plunge back into the glittery waters of passion for live theatre.

I thought that this statement from The Hope Theatre (this paragraph formed part of the show’s listing on their website) demonstrated such a thoughtful collaboration: “The Hope Theatre is working with Diabetes UK to raise awareness of the facts of the condition which features prominently in the play. A representative of Diabetes Islington visited the rehearsal room to give valuable medical input to the production.”

Steel Magnolias Maggie Robson, Jo Wickham, Samantha Shellie and Stephanie Beattie. Credit -LHPhotoshots

The action is centred around a hair salon, but Diabetes takes the starring role in the heart-warming tale of friendship and solidarity on the best of days and in the darkest of days. M’Lynn’s daughter, Shelby is getting married and visits Truvy’s hair salon, (where a sketchy new assistant, Annelle has just been hired) to prepare for her big day. While the excitement and hub-bub builds and the salon fills up with the other characters (namely, Ouiser and Clairee) in the six-hander piece, Shelby succumbs to a diabetic hypo. What transpires as the play moves along is that a hypo is not the only demon to worry about when you are a diabetic and the danger associated with Shelby’s subsequent pregnancy is a dominant storyline.

We had been privileged to have had a very close friend in our lives, Philip French, he was like a brother to us and he had been suffering with poor health associated with his Type 1 Diabetes, for years. A couple of months after I had fallen in love with Steel Magnolias he suffered an unexpected heart attack. He had been living with Diabetes-related foot ulcers which were preventing him from going to work as a Health Trainer. However, the last thing we had expected was that he would have a heart attack which would lead to his passing. He slipped away a couple of weeks before his 50th birthday. Phil referred to Diabetes as his ‘dragon’ and Diabetes had much more of an impact on his body than simply ‘messing around’ with his blood sugar. I admit I had never given much thought to what an effect the condition has on vital organs.

Hectic Diabectic - Phil - Steel Magnolias

My entertainment-based website ran an awards ceremony for the first time in December last year – recognising the best of theatre and television for 2016, in the humble opinion of myself and a small panel. Steel Magnolias was our Best Off-West End Production with Stephanie Beattie winning Best Off-West End Actress in our ‘Unforgettable Performance’ category. When I spoke to Stephanie following her win, I told her that we had a funeral to go to and that running the awards in December had lifted our spirits. Upon telling her that our friend had passed away from Diabetes-related complications she commented that it was fitting that we had given the award for Best Off-West End Production to a piece that dealt with the same issues that Phil had ultimately faced. It hadn’t occurred to me that we had sub-consciously done that. So, now the play has a place in my heart for more reasons than it merely having been a fantastic piece of theatre.

Stephanie Beattie - Steel Magnolias Review Hectic Diabectic Blog
Stephanie Beattie with her award for ‘Best Off-West End Actress’ at the ‘Break A Leg Critics Choice Awards 2016’

It amazes me when my worlds collide, we still mourn the loss of our friend of course and I had wondered if I would be able to watch Steel Magnolias again given the connection that I hadn’t made previously. Plus, it holds more poignancy now following recent tragic events. However, I have watched the film again recently, with a sense of remarkable and unfettered calm. I like to think that’s because our buddy approves of my facing facts and I hope that education about the effects of Diabetes will continue to be at the forefront of awareness about the condition.

I’ve never seen Steel Magnolias, neither the film or any theatrical version, but after reading Helen’s post, I’m intrigued. I loathe watching Type 1 Diabetes played out on screen as they’re often full of damaging inaccuracies, (you can read my thoughts on that here!), so I’m curious to find out whether this title could change my thoughts. I’m also impressed with the production team calling on Diabetes Islington to provide the cast with Diabetes-related knowledge.

Also, I just wanted to send my sincere condolences to Helen for the loss of her loved one. As a Type 1 Diabetic myself, it’s easy to forget how much the condition can affect not just us, but our loved ones too. Her post has really hit this home to me. So for that alone, I thank thee.

Have you seen Steel Magnolias? What do you think of it? Pop your thoughts in the comments box to let us know!

Love Bec xxx Signature

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