‘Shirley Valentine’ for SA Women’s Arts Festival

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Durban theatre darling Lisa Bobbert is to revive her award-winning title role in the celebrated, one-woman comedy-drama, Shirley Valentine, a flagship production among The Playhouse Company’s exciting line-up for the 2019 South African Women’s Arts Festival (SAWAF) in August.

Lisa Bobbert as Shirley Valentine
Lisa Bobbert as Shirley Valentine

Now in its 23rd year, the festival is always an eagerly anticipated celebration of women and their role in and contribution to the arts. Coinciding with August being Women’s Month, the event is a highlight on the calendar of The Playhouse Company, an agency of the Department of Arts and Culture, which embraces the government’s principles of social cohesion and nation-building.

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Shirley Valentine is among a diverse spectacle of drama, dance, music, topical discussion and craft assembled for the 2019 festival, which this year runs from August 7 to 10.

Directed by Steven Stead, designed by Greg King and with lighting design by Tina le Roux, the delightful, uplifting play by England’s Willy Russell was first staged in Durban by the KickstArt theatre company, 11 years ago. It went on to be a highlight of the Hilton Arts Festival at Hilton College.

To be presented, as part of SAWAF, at 19h30 daily from Thursday to Saturday, August 8 to 10, at the Playhouse Drama theatre, Shirley Valentine focuses on an individual with lost dreams and a lack of purpose, who then discovers the opportunity and courage to change her life for the better.

Tickets range in price from R120 to R150 and can be bought at the Playhouse box-office – phone 031 369 9596/40 – or online and at Pick n Pay outlets via WebTickets (the customer support line is 086 111 0005).

Shirley Valentine stars Bobbert (My Fair Lady, Abbamaniacs, Cabaret, Little Shop of Horrors, Glitter Girls, Into the Woods) in a tour de force performance that saw her receive three Durban Theatre Awards in 2008: Best Actress, Best Solo Performance and Best Comic Performance (Female).

The production, revived for another successful Durban season in 2013, also took the Durban Theatre Award for Stead’s directing.

Lisa Bobbert as Shirley Valentine
Lisa Bobbert as Shirley Valentine

The spotlight is on a bored, middle-aged Liverpool housewife, Shirley, who finds herself in a rut, wondering what happened to her life, when she starts talking to the kitchen wall while preparing her husband’s chip-’n-egg.

Then her best friend wins an all-expenses-paid trip to Greece for two, and Shirley starts to see the world, and herself, in a different light.

Billy Suter of The Mercury wrote of the Durban production: “Heavy with humour and credibility, it also has moments of poignancy, and Lisa Bobbert delivers it all with conviction and confidence, and a mix of fun and sweet vulnerability. Her standing ovation on opening night was well deserved.”

Gisele Turner of Going Places wrote, “Brilliant in every way” while Keith Millar of Artsmart said: “In a word. Wow! … a production of sheer class and style. This is as good as it gets”.

Willy Russell, who wrote Shirley Valentine, also wrote the comedy-drama Educating Rita (1980) and the hit musical Blood Brothers (1983).

Shirley Valentine was first staged in England in 1986, when it starred Noreen Kershaw under the direction of Glen Walford. In 1988, it opened at the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End, where it starred Pauline Collins. Directed by Simon Callow, that production received London’s Laurence Olivier Awards for best actress and best new comedy.

Pauline Collins went on to fill the title role in the popular 1989 film version which, directed by Lewis Gilbert, earned Collins a Best Actress Oscar nomination. The movie also starred Tom Conti.

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