Durban’s very own Shirley Valentine

2008-05-23 00:00

“She’s decidedly non-divaesque,” director Stephen Stead informs me as he delves into a bag and produces an array of treasures to oohs and aahs from Lisa Bobbert, the star of Shirley Valentine which opened at Durban’s Sneddon Theatre this week.

There’s jewellery and stoppered, empty wine bottles. Stead says he was preparing the props late into the night.

The Sainsbury’s packaging has arrived — bread packets, a bag for the potatoes and an empty milk bottle sent by a friend in the UK. There’s the “so eighties” jacket, dress and bag that belong to Stead’s mother and date back to her trip to Greece as well as some distinctly kitch dinner plates that were rescued from a bottom drawer.

“There’s something to be said for not throwing away all your old 80’s sh*t,” he laughs, producing an oven glove. Not being a diva in the kitchen either, Bobbert hadn’t even thought about the after effects of frying and eggs and chips live on stage. Then again, Stead is a man who takes care of the finer details, which probably explains why his production company KickStart is known for quality productions like the recent Aladdin pantomime at the Playhouse.

Meanwhile, Bobbert is deftly applying her makeup in the dressing room, even though the mirror lights won’t come on.

Between strokes, she admits: “Other than giving birth, this is probably the most hectic thing I’ve done in my life. I don’t think I’ve ever worked this hard before. I guess I’m a bit of a sucker for a challenge.

“But Aaron [McIlroy, Bobbert’s husband] thinks I’m the right person to play the role and it is just so cool to know that.”

The award-winning Willy Russell play features Shirley Valentine, the “middle-aged housewife beginning to sag a bit”.

She starts out by confiding to the wall about a stagnant life, while cooking up her husband’s chips ‘n egg. When her best friend wins a trip-for-two to Greece, Shirley Valentine leaves a note on the kitchen table and heads for a fortnight of rest, relaxation and romance.

Bobbert admits that Shirley Valentine is a story and a character with which everyone can identify and a movie that everyone remembers.

“I can’t be Pauline Collins [who starred in stage shows and the movie] so I’m just going to interpret the character as best I can. I believe I have found the essence, the spark and the sense of humour. Unlike other productions, I cannot just ad lib. The character is there in the play and I have got to make those words come alive and really feel the character. I have had to find that deep sense of loss, the regret for a life that has passed her by.”

Surprisingly enough, Bobbert who is almost type-cast as the glamorous, flippant funny girl, admits that it is quite easy to feel that way. She says that most people can relate to lost dreams and a lack of purpose. “Bad experiences make you feel smaller and smaller and you start to believe what other people say. Yet, this is a very positive play. She rediscovers her dreams. She falls in love with living and becomes comfortable with herself. She no longer has to be something she isn’t.”

Bobert finishes smoothing on the foundation and reaches for the eye shadow.

“I have to be white for the first half and then I can reveal my spray-on Caribbean tan,” she chuckles.

It seems there are also two completely different sides to the woman who is chatting into the mirror.

This is her first full-on acting role in years. Bobbert is probably best-known for her comedy outings with husband Aaron McIlroy and for her cabarets. Her more recent shows have been her one-woman play Chronicles of a Car Guard (which also has a musical element and is destined for the Hilton Arts Festival), Brutal Tunes with Anthony Stonier at the Rhumbelow Theatre and Saving The Planet with Peter Court.

Bobbert says she too has changed her view of life. “As I was going from show to show, I realized that there had to be more to life. I realised that if I was going to stay in Durban, I had to accept that I had gone as far as I could. If I wanted my career to go further I would have to relocate to Johannesburg or even audition for television.

“I have always wanted to develop theatre [in Durban], but it is not a priority in most people’s lives. I’ve got to be honest — if a good part (such as this) comes along, I am there. Otherwise, I feel that I need to move from success to signifcance. God has given me these talents to make a difference. I can speak to people and help as much as I can via the success in my own life. I can help them realise that there’s more to life than the car that you drive or the house you live in in La Lucia.”

It would be interesting to see how Bobbert could apply the wacky wisdom of Shirley Valentine to the so-called suburban bliss of the Durban North diva. But that will wait for another day. Right now, Bobbert needs to wash the foundation off her hands so she can pull on her pantihose and shuffles off. Then she heads for the stage.

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