Two years ago, actress Nicola Cavendish decided she was finished with Shirley Valentine.
It didn’t quite happen that way, though she did do a final tour in 2012 with the one-woman play about the desperate Liverpool housewife she has portrayed, to critical acclaim, since 1989. But Shirley, and Nicola, are back once more, for two final, final performances in her hometown of Penticton.
“Tickets are selling really well, they’re virtually gone, so that is an accomplishment right there. Now it is up to me to keep them in their seats,” said Cavendish. The two shows on Saturday — at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the Oasis United Church — will be special ones, done as a fundraiser at the request of a friend battling Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
“It’s nice that I am finishing finally, here, my hometown. We will have to put cement shoes on Shirley Valentine and throw her into Okanagan Lake,” said Cavendish, who was 37 when it all began. “This role came along and dropped itself into my lap and since then, it’s been a glory ride. Absolutely an extraordinary experience over the past 24 years.”
Cavendish said Shirley Valentine is beautifully written and it tells a wonderful story that people love to hear, but now feels it’s not for her to continue.
“I just know it’s not my turn anymore to keep telling the story, it’s for other people. It’s a beautiful story and it will always be around and somebody will always want to do it,” she said.
While it’s not the only role Cavendish has played, it’s one she has returned to again and again.
“Somebody actually had the insanity to go count the numbers over the years and it was something like 823 performances as of last May. So if you add two more for Penticton on to that, and round it up to 825,” said Cavendish.
Shirley Valentine is a play by Willy Russell, telling the story of a Liverpool housewife before and after a transformative vacation.
According to Cavendish, Russell wrote the play by drawing on his experience working as a hair stylist and listening to the ladies in his chair.
During breaks, he would go make notes, putting it together for a writing course he was taking.
“Then for his very first play writing exercise, he submitted this play,” said Cavendish. “There is nothing better than the words that come out of the mouths of the people who lived the story.”
Though the play is a comedy, it does look at the darker parts of life.
“The darkness is peppered and kept buoyant by the very levity that comes out of that self deprecating humour that the women in his chairs would spill forth,” said Cavendish.
“She is drinking her wine throughout the course of Act 1. It relaxes her and like with anybody, your guard drops and you begin to speak to deeper truths, which is the power of the piece.”
That core of the play is what has kept Cavendish in love with the role over the years.
“She is a very likeable character, she speaks into the hearts and knowledge of everyone. It’s about marriage, it’s about when marriage turns sour. And it is about what we do with what life we are given,” said Cavendish.