Magnolias flower again

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What started life as a play about sisterhood, which went on to become a smash hit movie, is back being played out on the boards once more. Katy Wheeler spoke to Cherie Lunghi about Steel Magnolias.

IN 1989, Steel Magnolias became the film of the moment.

It’s story of a bond among a band of women living in Louisiana that captured the imagination of film-goers, helped along by star turns from acting alumni including Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah and Julia Roberts.

However, it was a story not intended for the silver screen.

It was originally penned as a play in 1987 by Robert Harling to help the playwright deal with the death of his sister.

Now those female characters, who are tough as steel, but delicate as magnolias, are back and will arrive in the region next week.

One sixth of the troupe is Cherie Lungi, known for TV and stage work as well as those famous Kenco adverts, who is enjoying a return to the boards.

“The way the play came about was very nice as it was an offer which was lovely. Only a certain proportion of work is an offer,” she explained.

“I play Clairee, which everyone knows as the Olympia Dukakis role.

“I wasn’t really a fan of the film, my daughter used to watch it a lot. It was funny because I bought it as a present for my daughter last year and shortly after, I was offered the role.

“I still didn’t watch it though as I wanted to approach the character with a fresh perspective.”

She’ll be joined on stage by Denise Welch, who plays Truvy (a part Dolly Parton made iconic in the movie); Kacey Ainsworth as Annelle, Isla Blair as M’Lynn, Cheryl Campbell as Ouiser and Sadie Pickering as Shelby.

All congregate in Truvy’s beauty parlour to share the cycles of life, birth and death

Cherie said about Clairee: “She’s a funny, happy character, a survivor who gets through life with humour. It’s an ensemble piece that’s all women with some real strong characters.

“It’s great to see women as the heroes of the piece as we’re so used to seeing men in these roles.

“Like all groups of friends, they each have their strengths, they’re a team who make each other laugh. They’re a fantastically-supportive group.”

Cherie is no stranger to the theatre, having appeared in many Royal Shakespeare Company productions over the years.

However, Newcastle’s Theatre Royal holds a special place in her heart.

“I have family from Newcastle so I’m looking forward to coming up there”, she said. “I used to come up as a little girl and visit my aunties, then I moved there for a year when I was at the university theatre.

“I had a bedsit in Jesmond and at that time the buildings along the Quayside were mostly closed up, but you’d find the best Indian restaurant by wondering up an alley.

“Now it’s all changed, with the Sage and offices being built there.”

Speaking of her career, which has also included a sequined turn in 2008’s Strictly Come Dancing, she said: “I enjoy TV and theatre equally. It’s a nice contrast. But you can’t beat live performance in the theatre, it’s thrilling.

“That relationship between an actor and the audience can’t be beaten.”

l Steel Magnolias appears at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday until June 2. Tickets are £9-£30 and can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 or select your own seat and book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk