Skip to main content

About Steel Magnolias

Steel Magnolias is a stage play by American writer Robert Harling, based on his experience with his sister's death. The critically acclaimed play is a comedy-drama about the bond among a group of southern women in northwest Louisiana.

The action is set in Truvy's beauty salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana, where all the ladies who are "anybody" come to have their hair done.

Helped by her eager new assistant, Annelle (who is not sure whether or not she is still married), the outspoken, wise-cracking Truvy dispenses shampoos and free advice to the town's rich curmudgeon, Ouiser, ("I'm not crazy, I've just been in a bad mood for forty years"); an eccentric millionaire, Miss Clairee, who has a raging sweet tooth; and the local social leader, M'Lynn, whose daughter, Shelby (the prettiest girl in town), is about to marry a "good ole boy."

4th to 11th December 2021

  • Location: Mt Rowan Secondary College

  • Genre: Drama

  • Playwright: Robert Harlings

  • Director: Mary-Rose McLaren

About the Director

Dr Mary-Rose McLaren

Dr Mary-Rose McLaren is an associate professor in Education with the College of Arts & Education, Victoria University. Mary-Rose has been involved in many productions in Ballarat. Her favourite memories with Ballarat National Theatre include:

  • writing and directing “One Boys War” which was performed to sell-out crowds in 2013, which was about her Grandfather.
  • Co-writing and directing Honourable Mentions with Peter Nethercote. Honourable Mentions was a special tribute to the Royal South Street Society's 125 year history (2016)
  • Directing Daisy Pulls It Off and A Christmas Carol
  • Acting in Little Women and The Best Man (2016), Much Ado About Shakespeare and Falling From Grace (2017), and getting to be Mark Antony in Act Like a Girl.

Why this play?

As a classic piece of American theatre it has a strong female ensemble cast covering a range of ages. It provides an almost voyeuristic view into the lives of a small group of women and invites the audience into their world.

This play was last produced by BNT in 1994, and in fact my mother was a cast member. I thought it was time for another airing.

Although this play is American and now more than 30 years old, it still speaks to family, relationships, sacrifice, friendship and loss. It depicts women in strong, independent roles and does not shy away from the conflicting and competing roles that all adults must navigate.

Of particular interest to a 21st century audience is the depiction of who controls our bodies, and the degree to which we do (and do not) depend upon medical professionals and the advice they give.


Mika Wallace


Jess Hillman


Peppa Sindar


Linda Ogier


Janette Baxter


Olivia French


Liana Emmerson

Understudy: Shelby and Truvy

Pascale Cooper-Kennington

Understudy: M'Lynn

Gin O'Brien

Understudy: Clairee and Ouiser

Miranda Donald



  • Assistant Director

    Ann Chadwick 

  • Production Manager

    Liana Emmerson

  • Stage Manager

    Ann Chadwick 

  • Assistant Stage Manager

    Josh Pryor

  • Sound

    Lincoln Hunt
    Mike Zala

  • Lighting design
    BL Entertainment Solutions
  • Lighting Operation
    Lincoln Hunt
  • Costumes
    Laura Hudson
  • Assistant to Costume
    Sarah Kernaghan
  • Hair and Makeup
    Lana Spencer
  • Assistant to Hair and Makeup
    Ruby Penhall
  • Props

    Shell Pryor
    Emily Patterson

  • Photographer (Headshots and rehearsals)

    Liana Emmerson

  • Photographer (Stage and backstage)
    Sophie Skoblar
  • Marketing

    Liana Emmerson
    Jasper Jordan Magri

  • Front of House Manager
    Daisy Kate Kennington




    NETFLIX HAS NOTHING ON THIS: REVIEW OF BNT’S STEEL MAGNOLIAS by Megan J Riedl. Read on her website by clicking here.

    With last night’s opening of Steel Magnolias, Ballarat National Theatre returned to tread the boards for the first time in 2 years.

    The audience too – some chose to stay in masks – were feeling their way in what would’ve been for many a first night out to a live performance in a long time. While online productions and podcasts (even award-winning ones like BNT’s Pride & Prejudice) can be affecting, and have seen the arts industry through the lockdowns, they’re nothing compared to being part of a live performance.

    Perfectly cast, and a great choice of classic comedy-drama for the first post-COVID offering, Director Mary-Rose McClaren navigated her team through a production that included rehearsing on zoom, rehearsing in masks and an unfamiliar theatre space.

    Steel Magnolias, made famous by the film adaptation starring Julia Roberts and Dolly Parton, is a stage play by American writer Robert Harling. Set in the 1980s, the play follows the lives, loves and losses of the customers at Truvy’s hair salon in the American South. Based on Harling’s real-life sister, the play is a surprisingly deep and empathetic homage to the friendships of women.

    The set design was more modern that we’ve seen from past BNT productions, but still very naturalistic, with some genuine vintage hairdressing items which added to the authenticity of the experience. The fun 1980s costuming by Laura Hudson (assisted by Sarah Kernagan) was more than clothes. The costuming really deepened character without moving into caricature – especially the subtle development of Annelle (Jess Hillman/Mika Wallace) from a new-to-town dead-beat into a born-again Christian.

    A lot of the action took place looking out directly into the audience, as if in front of the salon mirrors, and there were a few moments of genius with the actors successfully looking like they were locking eyes through the non-existent mirrors. Jess Hillman (Annelle) and Liana Emmerson (Truvy) were also able to perform with genuine emotions and reactions to the ladie’s gossip while simultaneously dressing people’s hair, which is no mean feat.

    The cast needed time to dress and re-do hair backstage so between scenes black-outs were a little long, and the minor changes to the set dressing were mostly unnecessary, with the costumes adequately showing the passing of time. However, utilising the actors to set-up the Christmas decorations while grooving to some music between scene 1 and 2 was a welcome departure from waiting in the dark.

    The pace dragged in scene 1 – the longest scene of the play – and some nerves were evident in the younger members of the cast. But given that this is the company’s first production in 2 years, and the cast only took their masks off in rehearsal a few weeks ago – a slightly shaky start is understandable.

    Jess Hillman (sharing the role of Annelle with Mika Wallace) was more at home in the second half, showing more confidence in the later version of the character. Peppa Sindar (Ouiser) delivered a strong performance as the snarky neighbourhood grouch, however she struggled with the Southern accent which unfortunately took us out of the world of the play in some pivotal moments.

    There were many opportunities to laugh-out loud, particularly with the wise-cracking Miss Clariee, delivered with the expert deadpan comic timing of Jeanette Baxter.

    Olivia French nailed the naive, stubborn, stylish and big-hearted Shelby, and the love-hate mother-daughter relationship between her and Linda Ogier (M’Lynn) was well developed.

    Ogier was a slow-burner, taking her big moment and running with it in the final scene. She delivered a heart-wrenching monologue which had not only the audience – but also the rest of the cast – in tears.

    Liana Emmerson (also the Production Manager) was born to play Truvy. From the tips of her high-heeled shoes to the top of her blown-out blonde mane, Emmerson expertly walked the line between middle-aged vixen and matronly mother-hen.

    With plays that have been adapted to movies, there is always the danger of actors simply emulating their film counterparts, but director McClaren was able to guide the cast into their own interpretations of the characters.

    Any dropped lines were covered expertly, so it will be interesting to see how the quality of the performance fairs with a different cast member in the mix as the understudies get their turn. I applaud BNT for the innovation of understudies and assistants on the production team – not only does it upskill people and expand the company – but is also an important fail-safe in the COVID era.

    Mary-Rose McClaren and her team have delivered a fun, colourful, emotive journey, which, like life itself, has both laughter and tears. While a strong, but not mind-blowing production, it was, in one major way, a revelation.

    BNT’s Steel Magnolias was a reminder that live theatre is a nuanced and visceral exercise in the communication of human emotion. And that’s something we’ve all been deprived of for too long.

    It’s safe to say that live theatre is back. Netflix has nothing on this.