Shirley Valentine poised to impress

Same stage manager, director, actress and larger than life venue

Nicola Cavendish stars as the titular character in MTC’s production of Shirley Valentine. Supplied

At almost 800 seats, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s John Hirsch Mainstage is a very large venue - especially when you’re the only one onstage. 

Nicola Cavendish is tackling the feat head on.

“It’s definitely a monologue, with all 32 pages of single-spaced dialogue,” she jokes about her role in Shirley Valentine, while in the midst of a few last-minute rehearsals.

Shirley Valentine tells the tale of the suppressed housewife Shirley (played by Cavendish) and her struggle to break the bonds of an overbearing husband.

Fed up, she runs away to Greece with a friend and realizes her true potential.

The play is full of English wit and has some very uplifting themes. For Cavendish the play is about “enjoying your life as you go through it and really living your life as you go through it.”

The show runs until Jan. 28 and, according to director Roy Surette, it has been a somewhat rushed rehearsal process.

“We’ve only got a couple of days because of the timing after the holidays so it’s nice and fresh,” he says. “We’re not over-rehearsed.”

The lack of rehearsal time shouldn’t worry him, as he has produced the play with Cavendish and stage manager Rick Rinder before.

In 1992, they performed the piece on the same exact stage.

The set during the production nearly two decades ago was very large, but after working with many different set designers, Surette says that they now have a small kitchen set that “feels more like a bird in a cage.”

A connection also exists with the 1989 film adaptation starring Pauline Collins, who also portrayed Shirley during the Broadway production of the same year.

The set designer who helped design Cavendish’s 1992 production previously worked with Collins when the play was performed in London before it hit Broadway.

Although actors may use each other’s performances as a jumping off point, Cavendish has decided to give Shirley her own unique feel.

“I don’t want anyone else’s take,” she says. “I want to bring it out of the bottom of my own feet, the bottom of my soul and of my experiences.”

The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre presents Shirley Valentine at the John Hirsch Mainstage (174 Market Ave.) until Jan. 28. Tickets are $28 to $63. Visit

Published in Volume 66, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 11, 2012)

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