A life-affirming play

2008-05-27 00:00

Shirley Valentine

Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Durban

WILLY Russell’s one-woman theatrical tour de force, Shirley Valentine, is a gem of a piece of theatre. The story of a Liverpool housewife, whose children have left home and who is so lonely in a lifeless marriage that she talks to the kitchen wall, is gloriously funny, clever and ultimately wise and life-affirming.

It is also a huge challenge for an actress. Not only did Pauline Collins make the role her own, both on the London stage and in the well-known film, but the demands of the part are considerable. The play is a good two hours long and, apart from the interval, Shirley is onstage all the time, telling the story of her life. In this KickstArt production, she is played by the versatile Lisa Bobbert who makes her a touching, salty and engaging character. And if the accent sometimes slips from Merseyside into Wales — well, it’s not too far away.

An extra challenge in the first half is that Shirley is cooking chips and egg for her husband’s tea — and she is doing it for real. Greg King’s elaborate set comes complete with running water and a working stove. From where I was sitting, you could hear the chips sizzling in the pan. As she cooks, Shirley is telling the wall — and the audience — how her friend has invited her to join her for a fortnight in Greece. She can’t go of course, because who would cook Joe’s tea?

But Joe’s reaction to the chips and egg changes her mind, and Shirley sets off on the adventure of a lifetime. In the second act she’s in Greece, and the play swaps her fitted kitchen for a rocky cove and Shirley’s apron for a swimming costume. For those who don’t know the story, I’m not going to give it away, but I will say that Shirley’s worries about “all this life that can’t be used” are put to rest.

Here is a satisfied woman, and if she chats to a rock on her beach, it is not through desperation but from her natural friendliness.

I got the feeling that Bobbert was more comfortable in act two. Maybe the responsibility of the chip pan is something of an inhibiting factor before interval. But this is another fine production from Steven Stead and the KickstArt team, and when times are tough, there are few better escapes than a satisfying night at the theatre — assuming Greece is currently out of reach.


Shirley Valentine runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until June 8. Booking at Computicket at 083 915 8000or 011 340 8000 or visit ww.computicket.com. Tickets are R90. Times are 7.30 pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 2.30 pm matinees on Saturdays and 6 pm on Sundays.

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