It’s easy to tell when a comedic play does its job sufficiently. The tell tale sign is gut-splitting laughter of course, but it’s important to know where the humour comes from.
In MTC’s production of Shirley Valentine, it’s hard to tell whether the laughs comes from Willy Russell’s words or Nicola Cavendish’s humorous and sometimes raunchy portrayal of Shirley. It’s hard to tell because both do their job so well.
Cavendish’s role as the subservient, Liverpool housewife is truly remarkable. The actress has made the role a very unique one, having performed as Shirley innumerable times in the last decade.
She understands her character’s ups and downs and displays them with pinpoint accuracy to the audience. In the first act, she rides an emotional roller coaster while deciding whether to break the bonds of her oppressive husband and join her friend in Greece.
This entire first act takes place in Shirley’s kitchen ,and set designer Anne Seguin-Poirer made the stage accessible not only for for Cavendish, but also the audience.
There is no invisible wall between Shirley and the viewers because most of the time she is speaking directly to them. She confides about many of the things that bother her as she bustles around the kitchen making chips and egg for her husband.
Director Roy Surette decided to have Shirley actually cook the food, and the eggs could be smelled even from the balcony. Shirley’s unusual attraction to confiding in inanimate objects certainly provides a nice convention for quick development of characterization.
The character’s quirkiness stems from her loneliness but gives Cavendish the ability to use a very physical acting technique. At one point she pokes fun at her age by pretending to push a walker (represented by a kitchen chair).
Her character is not all silly though, and Surette makes sure that there is a dynamic transformation for Shirley from a meek housewife into a strong and confident lioness.
Fortunately, Shirley retains the traditionally British capacity for dry humour and wit the whole way through.
For sheer hilarity and entertainment, Shirley Valentine is stunning. Though the play is slightly cookie cutter there is still much to be learned from it, mainly loving life and being unique.
See Shirley Valentine at RMTC’s mainstage until Saturday, Jan. 28. Tickets range from $27 to $70. Visit www.mtc.mb.ca.