Amazing One-Woman Show has Lots of Laughs
Shirley is trapped in a midlife crisis. Her husband Joe is predictable and stubborn. “Marriage is like the Middle East,” she says, “There’s no solution. You keep your head down and hope the cease-fire holds.” The Liverpool housewife is so lonely she talks to the wall, and with the wall as her confidant, no subject is off limits.
British playwright Willy Russell has crafted a deliciously funny everywoman story with Shirley Valentine, now on stage at Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia. Any mother who has experienced the empty nest syndrome will identify with Shirley. The monologue in this one-woman show flows smoothly, her thoughts moving from one hilarious story to the next.
But then there are the poignant moments. Shirley is longing for her carefree youth, when she was single, when she was still Shirley Valentine – her maiden name. As the story progresses, we see Shirley grow and regain the confidence she once had. She learns that she is finally able to look after herself, after a lifetime of putting others first.
Nora McLellan is absolutely brilliant as Shirley. You will remember her from last season at VPP where she was so funny as Gail in The Birds and The Bees. A veteran of the Shaw and Stratford Stages, McLellan has also performed across Canada. She handles the challenge of being the only character on stage by filling the space. She is a great storyteller; moving us through the timeline of Shirley’s life seems perfectly natural.
McLellan is amazing in the way she works on the stage, talking to the wall (or the audience), all the while preparing an entire meal: peeling and chopping potatoes, frying eggs, setting the table, and enjoying her wine. We learn later that her husband’s distaste for chips and egg being served on steak night is the catalyst prompting her to change her life.
McLellan is also proficient at accents and voices. Shirley’s Liverpuddlian accent never falters throughout the show. When she relates things said by her husband Joe, neighbour Jillian, mate Jane, and love interest Kosta, the voices, intonations and accents change delightfully. Comedy is created in her earnest presentation of each character.
A one-person show takes great energy – the actor has to maintain the audience’s attention for the entire evening. McLellan holds the audience in her hand, getting every laugh from the hilarious lines, while keeping listeners on edge when her voice drops in the sad and emotion-filled moments. On opening night, she was interrupted several times by spontaneous applause as the audience enjoyed her humour and comedic timing.
The set is amazingly real. Shirley’s kitchen is complete with a working “cooker” where her chips sizzle and steam rises from her eggs. Later, she moves to a beach in Greece, where a rock becomes her confidant replacing her kitchen wall.
Director David Hogan has made the most of a smart script. He’s created a show for everyone. While the colourful language and adult content make it perfect for a girls’ night out (and for “girls” read “adult women”). But if opening night was any indication, men in the audience will fully enjoy it, too.
This show leaves you wondering: What’s the next step for Shirley? How will things unfold? Does she reunite with Joe or move on? McLellan’s portrayal of Shirley is so endearing, you want everything to work out for the best.
McLellan is one of Canada’s best actors. Don’t miss the opportunity to see her command the stage in this funny, yet thought-provoking, one-woman triumph.
Shirley Valentine continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until June 10. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 or visit www.thevpp.ca for tickets.
Photo: Nora McLellan as Shirley Valentine. Photo by Diane O’Dell
By Willy Russell
Directed by David Hogan
Performed by Nora McLellan
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
May 22 to June 10, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson