One-woman play a bit off the wall

Shirley Valentine may be a one-woman show, but there’s still a lot happening on stage.

That’s the guarantee from Nora McLellan, who stars as the title character in the play.

“It’s a really lovely play and it’s very funny, very touching and very life affirming,” she said.

“There is a lot going on. There’s a lot of activity. It is a one-person show, but that one person does play eight or nine characters as well.”

Persephone Theatre is presenting Shirley Valentine as its first main stage show of 2013, following the huge success of its production of The Sound of Music. Shirley Valentine was written by British playwright Willy Russell, who “wrote some really terrific plays about Liverpool in the ’80s,” said McLellan.

“Liverpool in the ’80s was a very depressed area. It had been bombed quite badly in World War Two. They had these kind of row houses, and people were really working class,” she said.

In the play, the character Shirley Valentine is a married middle-aged mother of two who doesn’t travel and who is lacking adventure in her life. Ignored by her children, she talks to a wall in her kitchen, which essentially becomes another character in the play.

“She always asks the wall for advice. She asks the wall for all of these things and reminders,” said McLellan.

“At least in the first act, she thinks she can never go beyond that wall. She can’t get beyond that wall; she’s scared to death of it. And then in the second act, we’ll see if she makes it or not.”

Although the play is funny, there are also some serious undertones to it. Shirley Valentine is trying to move beyond the wall to truly live her life, said McLellan, who believes both women and men will enjoy the show.

“It’s a universal thing,” she said.

“One of Shirley’s big questions is: why is there all this unused life? Why are we given all this life if we only use such a little bit of it? That’s her main thing — and it isn’t just women; it’s the same for men. We say, ‘Hi. How are you?’ We say we’re fine, and it just goes on like this until we’re dead. We haven’t done anything,” McLellan added.

McLellan, a Vancouver native who now lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, has had a longtime affiliation with Persephone Theatre. She first appeared in Persephone’s production of 18 Wheels in 1979, and returned to Saskatoon to star in For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again in 2009.

As a teenager, McLellan spent a lot of time in Saskatoon. She is close with members of the Wright and Richmond families, who founded Persephone Theatre.

“As I was starting to grow up, the late Susan Wright and Janet Wright and Brian Richmond thought that I could come and do a play called 18 Wheels, and I did that with their brother John and Denny Doherty, who was one of the founding members of The Mamas and the Papas. It was cool,” McLellan said, adding she enjoys working at Persephone.

McLellan, a founding artist of a musical theatre company in Toronto called Theatre 20, has appeared at theatres throughout North America. She has spent 22 seasons at the Shaw Festival and four with the Stratford Festival, where she met Heather Davies, who is the director of Shirley Valentine.

“Heather has spent a lot of time living in England, so she has a very strong sensibility of what this world is like,” said McLellan.

The rest of the Shirley Valentine crew includes set/prop designer Hans Becker, costume designer Theresa Germain, stage manager Laura Kennedy, assistant director Anita Smith, sound designer Gilles Zolty and lighting designer Mark von Eschen, who is also the executive and artistic director of Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan.

Shirley Valentine runs from Jan. 23 to Feb. 10 in Rawlco Radio Hall at the Frank & Ellen Remai Arts Centre. To purchase tickets, call 384-7727 or go online to www.persphonetheatre.org