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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

SHIRLEY VALENTINE (article first published : 2008-05-25; last edited : [an error occurred while processing this directive])

Meet Lisa Bobbert. Diminutive she may be, but she is one of Durban’s most accomplished and versatile actresses with an impressive talent who, until productions like Brutal Tunes, Bobbert Uncut and her appearances as Liza in the Playhouse Company’s My Fair Lady, has been better known for her work in comedy musical pieces with her husband, Aaron McIlroy.

Meet Shirley Valentine. The product of the imagination of an acclaimed British playwright, screenwriter, author, lyricist, and composer, she is a middle-aged Liverpool housewife whose best friend invites her to accompany her to Greece. This sparks off a journey of exploration as Shirley takes stock of her life and wonders how the spunky, forthright and daring qualities of her youth became engulfed in the years of being a wife and a mother. Her relationship with her husband is dysfunctional. He’s uncommunicative, self-absorbed and surly - and Shirley is ready to break out!

Meet Willy Russell. Born in Merseyside (the home of the Beatles) and coming from a working class background, his two most famous and much-loved characters are Rita from Educating Rita and Shirley in Shirley Valentine - characters he has drawn with much love, humour and poignancy. Shirley Valentine won him the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 1988 and the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Screenplay in 1990, the same year in which the film gained him a BAFTA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Meet the KickstArt team which has fused the elements of these three impressive personalities into a current season of Shirley Valentine which opened last night at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. In his usual efficient style with close attention to detail, Steven Stead has directed a fine production, highlighting Lisa’s versatility and energies. Greg King’s attractive designs include a well-planned and functional kitchen and a sun-kissed beach in Greece, effectively lit by Tina le Roux.

Shirley Valentine is a challenging role for any actress - while there are a number of interesting characters to colour the action, there are no other actors to share the burden. The responsibility is the actress’s alone and she must cook a meal of egg and chips – for real - in the process! While this is essentially a comedy piece, Shirley has to run the gamut of emotions from a downtrodden housewife – “Saint Joan of the Fitted Units”, as she calls herself - to a liberated woman. She survives her humdrum life by talking to her kitchen wall as there’s no-one else to talk to. She then embarks on an adventure which allows her the freedom of thought and action to “re-discover” herself. At the same time, she hasn’t lost her love for her husband and wants him to share in her new-found joy of the world.

It must have been difficult not to copy British actress Pauline Collins, who made the character her own in the play and subsequent movie but Lisa Bobbert has infused her own energy into the role. She handles the mood changes well, her good comedy skills allowing the laughter to run free but not take over. The audience happily – and often, vocally - supports Shirley as avenues open to her and she grabs the opportunities with an ingenuous sense of daring.

Willy Russell has created a marvellous script which it is any actress’s dream to perform. Laugh lines come thick and fast, there’s a chuckle a minute and the moments of poignancy are well-handled so they don’t become maudlin. As is my wont, I keep an eye out on the rest of the audience, gauging their reactions and it was a joy to see so many smiles on so many faces throughout both acts. Being opening night, most of those watching were members of the theatre industry - each analysing Lisa’s every mood and move. The standing ovation at the end said it all!

Shirley Valentine is by no means a theatrical chic-flick but a reminder that we can too easily lose sight of who we are and our relationship to those we care for under the pressures of simply carrying out a living. And let’s face it, things at the moment are tough – I don’t need to list the problems. This production will take you out of yourself and perhaps send you on your own voyage of discovery and rehabilitation. Who knows, the airlines may soon be booked solid with everyone heading for Greece!

Shirley Valentine runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until June 8. Performances from Tuesday to Saturday at 19h30 with a matinee on Saturdays at 14h30. Sundays performances at 18h00. Tickets R90 (R70 on May 22 only) and seating is reserved. Booking is at Computicket or phone 083 915 8000 or 011 340 or 8000 or visit www.computicket.com Don’t miss it! – Caroline Smart




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