Shirley Valentine

By Alidor Aucoin on February 5, 2009

Shirley Valentine, at the Centaur Theatre until February 22, is a harmless feminist fantasy about a middle-aged housewife who skips out on her husband on two week Aegean holiday to find her self.

It’s an entertaining two hour monologue that thrills women of a certain age without ever offending their self-satisfied husbands who have been dragged along into to the theatre.

Vancouver’s favourite actress, Nicola Cavendish, has been doing the show across Canada for so long she delivers a deliciously full-bodied, unglued performance.  

Cavendish portrays the  heroine who is married to a lout of a husband whom she describes as, “not bad, but no bleeding good.”

Her children are grown and to escape her boring marriage she accepts  the invitation from a gal pal to fly off to Greece.

Shirley_valentineBW.jpgAs she cooks chips and  eggs for her husband in her crisply sterile kitchen, she knocks back a bottle of wine, and invites the audience into her predicament before she fulfills a dream every housewife has entertained at least once in her life:  She tacks a note to husband on the fridge door that reads: Gone to Greece, Back in Two Weeks.

The script by Willy Russell , who also wrote Educating Rita, is filled with wry musings such as “Marriage is a little bit like the Middle East, isn’t it? There’s no solution. The best you can do is hold your head down and hope the cease fire holds. ”

Normally, Shirley would be frying steak for her husband, who expects the same meal every evening. But she’s fed the meat to a dog whose owners have raised him to be a strict vegetarian just for the pleasure of seeing the dog devour it, and at the same time, one suspects, for the delight of annoying her husband.

Cavendish talks to the walls as she gossips cheerfully about the minutiae of her boring life including her grown children, a selfish daughter and a feckless son. There is an especially hilarious story about her son’s disastrous appearance in a Christmas pageant. Cavendish is one of those performers who can bring down the house with a gleeful expression or a turn of her head. Her message is trite, but clear: Life is short, and “some people die long before they’re dead.”

Clearly, she is not about to be one of them. With the help of a Greek waiter she meets on her vacation, she discovers what it means to be a woman all over again.

Centaur artistic director Roy Surette, who has been coaching Cavendish along in this one character  show for almost 20 years, continues to illuminate the work.

 Cavendish, who concedes she was “way too young” when she first stepped into the character’s skin in 1989, says doing the show for so long has helped her discover a resonance in the part that wasn’t there at the beginning.

“For maturity, for life experience, I’m exactly on the money now. There’s a richness to Shirley’s palette that wasn’t there before. Its not lines now’ Shirley is at a cellular level for me.”

The costumes by Phillip Clarkson are right on the money, Anne Séguin Poirier’s set elevates kitchen sink drama to a new level, and her vision of a Greek Island in the second act (beautifully illuminated by lighting designer Luc Laprairie) is cheerfully detailed, right down to the tiny, Aegean village atop distant mountain - but you  have to look carefully to see it.

After close to 600 performances as Shirley Valentine, Cavendish can claim the role as her own.

It’s worth a trip to the Centaur just for the pleasure of seeing her again.



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