Call the Midwife star loving being part of Steel Magnolias

And now as she heads out on a national tour of Steel Magnolias, there are no signs of those family troubles going away.

Laura plays M’Lynn Eaterton, Sally Field’s character in the 1989 film version of Robert Harling’s play. She’s mum to the wilful Shelby, with Accrington-born Diana Vickers making a return to the stage in the role.

The Bolton News: Laura Main and cast of Steel Magnolias (Picture: Pamela Raith)

A veritable all-star female cast also includes former EastEnders’ and The Bill star Lucy Speed as salon owner Truvy Jones; Caroline Harker and Harriet Thorpe from Absolutely Fabulous. Set in Louisiana it revolves around a group of feisty women who meet every week at the town beauty salon and put the world – and each other’s lives – to rights.

The tour – which brings Steel Magnolias to The Lowry later this month – is only the second national tour Laura has been involved in. She previously starred in Shrek the Musical in 2018.

“You know, I actually quite like the touring,” said Laura. “There’s something to be said for turning up on a Tuesday and having five days of intensively performing seven shows and then getting a couple of days to yourself – I think it’s quite civilised really. I’m enjoying. It gives you time to get back to the reality of doing the washing and then it’s back to the hotel, eating out and seeing different parts of the country.”

What also helps to make the tour enjoyable is the clear affection the whole cast have for each other.

“It’s so great to have six women of all ages in this show,” said Laura. “That’s actually something I have with Call the Midwife too. Occasionally pieces are made which have all sorts of women in them and I’m fortunate to be in two of them.

The Bolton News: Lucy Speed and Diana Vickers in Steel Magnolias 
                                                                (Picture: Pamela Raith)

“There definitely is something about people coming together supporting one another and showing how we can lift one another up and that we’re better as a collective.

“That’s something you can take both from Call the Midwife and Steel Magnolias.”

On screen as Sheila Turner, Laura has to play a character who is very earnest, obviously kind and considerate but perhaps a little boring.

In real life her conversation is peppered with laughter although the charming Scottish accent remains.

“Sheila is very empathetic,” she said. “That’s not just as a mum but also in her work as a midwife and a nurse. I love that side of her character.”

In Steel Magnolias, Laura is very much a mum but there’s far more to her than that.

“If people have seen the movie then they will remember the Sally Field character,” she said. “But the play is what the film was based on so there are some differences.”

Laura revealed that the cast had the opportunity to meet writer Robert Harling at the start of the rehearsal process.

“He spent an hour and a half with us telling us about his life and where he grew up. It gave us a wonderful fast track to the world of these women. It was a great privilege and so helpful.”

Laura is confident that the play will appeal to a wide audience.

“There are the diehards who have seen the film so many times they can quote the dialogue,” she said, “I have friends like that who have been to see the play and said they loved it so that was a real seal of approval.

“But to those not overly familiar with the film or are new to it altogether, I think it will surprise them. It is incredibly emotional in parts but the predominant feel is comedy. It is very funny and it is also very uplifting.

The Bolton News: Laura Main and Diana Vickers in Steel Magnolias (Picture: Pamela Raith)

“Without giving too much away, my character does have one major emotional speech, almost a soliloquy, and initially I did wonder if it might be too much of an undertaking.

“But I realised it was also a wonderful opportunity and a great challenge. I think I was worried that I would spend part of the show psyching myself up for this emotional moment but actually so much happens before that and there is so much life and laughter in the production, that I don’t really have to think about it.”

The cast have already become very close less than a month into the tour.

“It’s funny, even in rehearsal when we were having a break, we found ourselves acting just like these women in the beauty parlour. We’d be speaking in our own accents but we’d all be chatting, chipping in with things and just laughing together.

“It shows it’s a really great piece of writing which audiences really respond too.”

Laura argues that the response to Steel Magnolias and the success of Call the Midwife suggest that there is a appetite for productions with a varied female cast.

“I am surprised there aren’t more plays with loads of women in them,” she said. “The fact of the matter is this play was written in the 80s. When Call the Midwife came along was there was nothing like it on TV. People even worried because there wasn’t anything like it, they wondered if it would be a success or not. But we know how that turned out.”

And Laura had some good news for Midwife fans.

“There will definitely be another series,” she said. “I’m on tour with Steel Magnolias until the end of April and after that we start shooting the next series which takes us to 1969.”

Steel Magnolias, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Tuesday, February 21 to Saturday, February 25. Details from

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