WHATEVER happened to Mischa Barton? If you can recall, Hollywood’s golden girl was persecuted by the tabloid press for having — shock horror — cellulite a few years ago, and then we didn’t hear hilt nor hair of her again.
Until now. Barton is in Dublin until September 22, where she is playing the role of Shelby Eatenton in Robert Harling’s heartwarming play, Steel Magnolias at the Gaiety Theatre.
Set in Truvy’s hair and beauty salon in the small town of Chinquapin, Louisiana, it follows the friendship of six local women of varying ages through life’s peaks and troughs. It is a meditation on sisterhood and motherhood. It is laugh-out-loud funny and lump-in-your-throat sad.
Most will know the play from its 1989 cinematic retelling. Julia Roberts played Shelby, while a powerhouse of female talent including the sensational Shirley Maclaine, Dolly Parton, Sally Field and Daryl Hannah starred alongside her.
The title beautifully describes the complexities of women; how they can be as delicate as flowers yet iron strong.
Those who come to see the theatrical version will know the play as a film, rather than the other way around. Expectations will be high, and I don’t think it will disappoint.
Barton sparkles from the moment she steps on stage. We first meet her character on the day of her wedding, and we learn that she is unquestionably kind and relentlessly upbeat — even in the face of illness.
It is so easy to dislike saccharine sweet characters for their lack of edge, but Barton’s Shelby is instantly magnetic.
Another well-known face is Anne Charleston, better known as Madge in Neighbours. She plays the curmudgeonly Ouiser (Maclaine’s role in the film), and she takes to the task with aplomb.
Karen Ardiff (Truvy), Barbara Brennan (M’Lynn), Gillian Hanna (Miss Clairee) and Natalie Radmall-Quirke (Annelle) are equally captivating. Some of the Louisiana drawls occasionally slip when they drag their vowels all the way to Mississippi, but for the most part they give accomplished performances, never missing their beats.
For all the big hair, bright outfits and constant gossip, one forgets how difficult it is to produce an ensemble piece with just one set (the beauty salon). This cast make it look easy.