By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre has opened its Summer Season with a one-woman play, Shirley Valentine, starring Deborah Drakeford.
Capitol Artistic Producer Rob Kempson invited members of the local media to sample what’s in store Friday, just a day before opening night, with a brief performance by Drakeford on the Capitol stage under the direction of Karen Ancheta.
“Shirley Valentine is 42,” Ancheta said by way of introduction.
“She has done what many women have done before – got married, raised a family, been a mother, been a wife. And in this moment she decides to invest in herself.”
That investment is the decision that, yes, she WILL accompany her best friend on the trip to Greece that the friend won in a contest. But for Shirley, it’s not exactly a matter of just picking up and going.
She stands in her kitchen, hat in hand, suitcase by her side. The implements and evidences of her daily grind are all around her – the folded-up ironing board, the unfolded step stool, the mixing bowl on the counter, the crock pot on the stove.
About to leave for an adventure with her girlfriend, she has agonized over leaving, even for a little vacation. Her preparations have included a passel of prepared meals in the freezer for her husband in her absence – not to mention her own internal debate on whether to tell him in advance and risk his talking her out of it or (at the very least) making her feel guilty. She knows she’ll pay later for her decision to tell him in a note she left behind.
She clutches her purse, chanting like a mantra, “passports, tickets, money, passport, tickets, money…” as she waits for the taxi to the airport.
“You wouldn’t take on a play like Shirley Valentine without the right person to play Shirley,” Kempson said.
Drakeford is reprising the role she played in 2018 at the Thousand Island Playhouse – “feels like a lifetime ago, pre-pandemic,” she said.
“She tries to redefine herself, find herself again after being married for a long time. Like most long-term relationships, you have those moments of, ‘hmmm – will you come back again?’”
The fact that playwright Willy Russell authored a play with what Drakeford called “incredible insight into a middle-aged woman’s story” may be due – she speculates – to something she discovered while researching him.
“For a time, he was a hairdresser,” she revealed.
The right hairdresser, for a woman, can be a confidant, a shoulder to lean on, even a confessional.
“I imagine he heard a lot of Shirleys in his time,” Drakeford guessed.
“I am sure he had all these amazing, remarkable women sharing their stories with him.”
Ancheta has found directing Shirley Valentine a fantastic experience personally.
“I can’t believe how much I identified with Shirley at this age and the things that happen when you have a family, when you are a wife – then you come out the other end, and you have a moment of, ‘Okay, is this it?’ What makes you spend so much time giving care and doing all the things expected of you, and then you get into this,” she said.
Raising children is all-consuming, Drakeford pointed out.
“All your needs get put in a queue, and you’re at the bottom,” Ancheta agreed.
“The moment for her is, ‘What is it that actually makes me happy? Who am I now?’”
“Not just a wife, not just a mother,” Drakeford added.
“It’s a story that centres on a woman that is on this particular discovery to embrace herself. It takes shape in the form of a 42-year-old woman named Shirley Valentine in Liverpool. She’s invited by her best mate to take a leap of faith and go on a vacation, to take the trip of a lifetime – the moment where she takes the time to do something for herself and makes a lot of discoveries about herself on that trip,” Ancheta summed up.
Drakeford can’t give away the ending, but she characterizes it as both life-affirming and life-altering.
“I would also add, it’s not just about discovery of self, although I think that’s definitely the most important aspect of it. It’s a discovery of humanity and what we all go through, the compromises we make sometimes and the insights we have,” Drakeford said.
“It’s not just about Shirley Valentine, though she is certainly the central means to speak these big conversations – it’s bigger than that.”
The show runs through May 28, to be followed by The Ballad of Stompin’ Tom June 9 through July 2, Prairie Nurse July 14 through 30, Mickey and Judy July 27 through Aug. 6, and Little Shop of Horrors Aug. 11 through Sept. 3.
For more information (or tickets), visit capitoltheatre.com