Making friends with the characters she plays

You'll love Shirley Valentine

“It’s better than brilliant. It’s mega brill. It’s double fab, yeah.”

It is very strange, but after I work on a character, I feel like they are a friend of mine. Perhaps it is because when I am rehearsing, I spend so much time with them-researching, moving, talking, dressing and thinking like them.

When a play is over, I usually don’t want to leave the character, so I think of them fondly as a long lost friend. In my next show, I think I have found my theatre bestie, Shirley Valentine.

Shirley Valentine was a hit one-woman play written by Willy Russell, a lad from Liverpool who got frustrated with school when he was 15, dropped out and became a hairdresser. His time spent with women and the secrets they revealed to him in his chair inspired him to go back to school and later on to college, where he studied drama and writing.

His time as a teenage hairdresser also shaped the characters he wrote, most notably Rita from Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine. Both were icons of the late 1980s and inspired other strong female-driven movies, like Thelma and Louise.

Willy Russell and Pauline Collins, who originated the role on stage and in the movie, were nominated for, and won, multiple awards, including Oliviers, Tonys and Drama Desk Awards. Collins’ brilliant characterization in the 1989 film also saw her nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress and won her a Golden Globe for Best Comedy performance.

To know Shirley Valentine is truly to love her. She is a middle-aged housewife in Liverpool who spends her days in a lonely existence but dreams of a life “outside the wall” that she talks to all day long.

When the opportunity to travel to Greece is offered to her, she is reluctant to go at first, but then has the adventure of a lifetime. “First Greece, Shirley, then the world!”

Strange as it seems, I am constantly laughing about the things Shirley says in her “scouser” blunt but beautiful way of seeing the world.

I am a woman who is happy in her marriage, is very close to my sons and has a rich work life, but even so, I can really relate to Shirley in so many ways, especially her feelings about aging and loneliness.

I spent much of this year recovering from a car accident I had last summer and, honestly, never felt so left out and lonely. Shirley inspired me to make the most of my “unused” life, to not take myself too seriously, to be like Shirley the Brave and “just go”.

Where am I going next? You can catch me onstage as Shirley Valentine in Studio 100 at the Rotary Centre for the Arts in Kelowna from May 11 to 13.

Tickets are almost sold out, so get yours at https://www.showpass.com/shirley-valentine/.

I do think, however, you will likely see me play this role again. It’s going to be too hard to leave this friend behind.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Bonnie on Stage articles

About the Author

Bonnie Gratz is an actor, director, and playwright. She is the Artistic Director of Kelowna's New Vintage Theatre, and a member of the Playwright's Guild of Canada and The Literary and Dramaturges of North America. 

For more on Bonnie, check out www.bonnie-gratz.com or check out www.newvintage.ca

Contact Bonnie at:  [email protected]


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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