Lynda Brown (left) and Sophie Davies. Photo: Mid Sussex Photography

The small theatre in Church Walk certainly added intimacy to the atmosphere, getting up close and personal to the characters as their various personalities were revealed skilfully by the stage cast of six.

The actors set out their stall early, putting Louisiana heat into passionate arguments.

Yet contrasting delicacy was also delivered with grace as Robert Harlings’s fine script, based on the tragic death of his sister, unravelled into a tale of conflict mingled with compassion.

Inevitably the impeccable Sophie Davies as main character Shelby Eatenton-Latcherie took the spotlight, drawing out the dreamy optimism and courage of her character with confidence and empathy as Shelby the bride has her joy dissipated by news she has diabetes but defiantly chooses to have a baby.

Despite the strength of the performance by Davies, this play works best when the feeling of group friendship overcoming personal conflict is distilled, and everyone on stage played their part admirably as this bond was cemented in style.

Harling injected plenty of humour amidst the darker moments of the story and the cast generally showed good timing in delivering the many punch lines in decent accents. It was easy to imagine the agony of a family dealing with what proves to be a fatal illness, yet at the same time the performances brought out the way the jokes and light conversation were used to dispel what might have been pervasive gloom.

Phil Dennett

Steel Magnolias runds until Saturday 7th September. See the Burgess Hill Theatre Club website for details