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Laura Main is instantly recognisable to fans of popular BBC TV series Call The Midwife. 
Her character in the show, Sister Bernadette, decided to kick the habit, marry the local doctor and become Mrs Shelagh Turner. With season 12 of the series having come to a close, fans of Laura can now catch her on stage in a new touring production of Steel Magnolias. What’s On recently caught up with her to find out more...

For millions of television viewers, Laura Main is best known as former nun Sister Bernadette/Shelagh Turner in the hugely popular BBC series Call The Midwife. But this spring Laura is taking on a new role in the touring stage production of Steel Magnolias.
Coming to Birmingham this month, the drama tells the story of six women who meet every week in a local beauty salon, where they share their lives, their joys, their hopes and their sorrows.
Written by Robert Harling, Steel Magnolias was premiered off-Broadway in 1987. It then toured the United States before becoming a Hollywood film with a stellar cast, including Dolly Parton, Sally Field and Julia Roberts.
Now touring the UK, the show sees Laura playing M’Lynn Eatenton, who experiences both happiness and tragedy in the show. Harriet Thorpe, Lucy Speed, Diana Vickers, Elizabeth Ayodele and Caroline Harker also star.
Laura believes the intertwined stories of the six women will resonate with different members of the audience: “It’s truly timeless because it’s about friendship, it’s about love, and it’s about great loss as well, which we will all experience at some point in our lives. It’s very universal in that respect. 
“It’s also a very funny show. Robert Harling  has a wonderful way with words, so all of the characters are funny. You know when you get a group of women together they can have fun and have a laugh. It covers a period of two years in which such a lot happens. So there’s the laughter, but it’s possibly cathartic as well - it’s got it all.”
Laura doesn’t want to give too much of the story away but says she was keen to take on the role of M’Lynn because of the character’s wide range of experiences in the show.
“It’s certainly the journey she goes on which makes the part quite appealing. It was daunting but a challenge that I wanted. I could see the fun to be had in the role, but I could see it could be quite cathartic as well. It was something I was equally challenged and excited by - and that seemed a good reason to do it.
“Also, it’s lovely to be back on stage. I was in Shrek The Musical, which came to the Alex, but it’s a while since I’ve done a play. I love theatre, and the Alex is a lovely venue.”
In the stage show, all the action takes place in the salon - an ideal place for women to swap their stories.
“Hairdressers do get told everything! A salon is a place where people talk, they share their fears and have fun. I suppose we all know that idea of talking to your hairdresser, but what’s so special about this group of women is that every Saturday they turn up at the salon. They’re neighbours, and they have this regular time - a bit like a coffee morning - that they will spend together. It’s partly about getting their hair done but also about sharing time together. So you’ve got that camaraderie between them.”
Laura thinks the show will appeal both to people who know the Hollywood blockbuster and to audience members new to the story.
“I think there are people who have seen the movie but can’t quite remember the ending, so they are all devastated but still surprised by the laughs they will get by the end. It’s very uplifting - that’s what people are telling me after they’ve seen the show.
“And there are people who really know the movie. I would tell friends before rehearsals I was going to be in Steel Magnolias and they would start quoting from the movie. They’ve since been to see the play and loved it - so diehard fans of the movie can also enjoy the play!”
Laura tours with Steel Magnolias until April, when she returns to filming the next series of Call The Midwife. Her family are travelling from Scotland to see the show at the Alex.
“I’m not doing the Scottish dates on the tour, as I go on to do Call The Midwife, so Birmingham is the easiest place for them to come and see the show - there are direct flights to Aberdeen. I’m really looking forward to that.”
And Laura is also looking forward to filming the next series of Call The Midwife.
“It feels exciting to be part of it still. I think ultimately the success of the series comes down to the writing. There’s huge enthusiasm for the stories, and people get to know the characters as well. But it’s not just about those characters but also the guest characters, who shine a light on an issue that deserves to be talked about on prime-time television. 
“Ultimately it’s about love and family and friendship, so I keep seeing parallels with Steel Magnolias. I think we like to see people caring for each other, helping one another, being a community, and Call The Midwife is also a celebration of the nursing profession and the NHS.
“And I think with Steel Magnolias, it’s similar because it’s also about friendship through all kinds of experiences. The audience will have a really good night out in the theatre at this show. There are moments when we hear the audience roar with laughter, and I think there’s nothing to match that for the performer. And it’s so nice to sit in the theatre and have a really good laugh. 
“Then, towards the end, you can hear a pin drop. The show says something quite important as well. I think some people will recognise the story that we’re telling, and it may be comforting for them to know that they are not alone in their experiences of life. When we talk about difficult experiences and experience them collectively, it brings us together.”

by Diane Parks