Shirley Valentine

Opera House, Wellington

17/06/2010 - 17/06/2010

Production Details


In the mid 1980s, while Shirley Valentine was running off to Greece to escape the drudgery of suburban English life, Nancy Schroder was running off to New Zealand.

In 1983, at 19yrs of age, Nancy was experiencing her independence as a dancer on a cruise ship in the Caribbean; that is, before the ship was commandeered by Margaret Thatcher to serve in the Falklands war. Out went the hospitality facilities, and in with troop supplies!

By then however, Nancy had fallen love with the ship’s doctor who was planning to emigrate to NZ so together they set out from the high life of London to downtown Ashburton. 

Nancy says of the experience, “Well it was a bit of a culture shock, I wasn’t even allowed to buy a drink. I think the then legal age in NZ was 21.”

Since arriving in NZ Nancy has performed on most stages throughout the country, from Kerikeri to Invercargill – but never in Wellington! Among her many stage appearance she has been a lead actress at Court Theatre in Christchurch (Daughters of Heaven – the Parker/ Hulme Murder [Juliet Hulme]), Mercury Theatre Company (The Crucible [Abigail Williams] & Auckland Theatre Company (Travesties [Nadya Krupskya]).  

Nancy is also well known for her roles in Shortland Street & Hercules.

Born in Tiverton, Devon, UK, Nancy relocated to London on attaining scholarships at the age of 13yrs – to Nesta Brooking School of Ballet, and later at 16 yrs old to The Arts Educational Stage School, studying alongside the likes of Martin Clunes (Men Behaving Badly, Doc Martin).

Nancy comes from a strong line of thespians; her mother Irene attended Italia Conti with Julie Andrews. Later Irene became a member of the famous “Tiller Girls” at London’s Palladium Theatre, working with the likes of Bob Hope, Arthur Askey and Judy Garland.  She went on to establish The Willow Tree School of Performing Arts in the 1960s – now celebrating its 50th Anniversary. Irene, at 80yrs old, still runs the school and continues to teach.  

Finally Nancy is coming to perform in Wellington, at The Opera House, for one night only, reprising her role as Shirley Valentine in the one-woman play that Nancy has performed to full houses, standing ovations and great reviews throughout 2009.

Nancy says of the 36 page script she has to recall on stage “originally when I was asked if I was interested in playing the lead role in Shirley Valentine I naively accepted immediately….not realising at the time it was a one-hander,” she laughs.  “So when I got hold of the script and began to read it, I realised I had to play all the characters and I almost fell out of the chair.”

However, Nancy says of the role, “Shirley is such a wonderful character, full of wit and insight, and very quirky. She really is a joy to play. Shirley is so non-judgemental, opening her life to the audience as if they are her best friend. The play is a bit naughty; adult if you like and both men and women seem to enjoy the humour equally.”

The set & lighting design, has been created by the acclaimed Michael Knapp (Opera Australia) who will once again weave his magic on tour in June for Shirley.

June 17th 2010 – The Opera House, Wellington 

Cast:  Nancy Schroder
Designer:  Michael Knapp
Producer:  Fred Alder

Pace and liveliness lead to insight and pathos

Review by John Smythe 18th Jun 2010

As Shirley unpacks the shopping in her drab kitchen, while the houselights slowly fade, we are treated to Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’. Two hours later she’s on a beach in Greece, anticipating the arrival of her husband to the strains of Neil Finn and Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’. Nice one.

Very much of its time (mid 1980s), Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine stands now as a play each generation should see. First, it reminds us where we’ve come from in attitudes to marriage. Second, it prompt lovers young and aging to remind themselves and each other that Clitoris is not a Greek island, even if – in this case – it takes a Greek explorer of foreign bodies to help Shirley rediscover it.

In richly fluent Liverpuddlian argot, the play rolls great gobs of insight and wisdom off the gabby tongue of an extra-ordinary creature of 42 years conditioning, more than half of it spent consolidating her wife (of Joe) and mother (of Brian and Milandra) habits. She’s no radical activist. It’s thanks to the generosity of her best friend Jane – who bought the tickets to Greece – that Mrs Joe Bradshaw somehow becomes an accidental liberationist.

Or is her journey from Joe to Costa and beyond, from housewife and mother back to her future as Shirley Valentine, inevitable, given her lively and questing mind? Her journey starts with “Why?” – asked, in her case, of the wall that confines her: “Why do y’ get all this life when it can’t be used? Why do y’ get all these feelin’s an’ dreams an’ hopes if they can’t ever be used?” And once she’s worked through it all, the only real question left is “Why not?”

Despite an horrendous headmistress who predicted she’d never go far in life, and the rebellious “hating everything” and “what’s the point?” phases that followed, Shirley continues to quest as she sips a large glass of Riesling and prepares chips and eggs on automatic pilot, knowing already there’ll be hell to pay because it’s supposed to be mince on Thursdays.

Amid her witty and whimsical observations, all the funnier for being rooted in desperation, fear of change and numbness rather than pain, powerful insights hit home: “Why does loving someone give you the right to treat them worse than someone you only like?”

Once the chips and eggs are down – thrown all over the floor and Shirley by Joe (who is given to addressing the big questions of life to the fridge) – their daughter Milandra, and before her a patronising neighbour, serve to erode Shirley’s self-esteem: And yet it is the neighbour who revives it with a gift and sincere affirmation of her courage. Yes, she does deserve to have a fortnight’s holiday in Greece!

Abandoned by Jane to an isolated Greek island cove, Shirley’s pleasure in only having herself to answer to brings challenges and opportunities she wasn’t expecting. Abetted by Costa from the Taverna who owns a boat and loves her stretch marks, she rediscovers her self – Shirley Valentine – and gets herself a life. But what of the old one …?

Simply staged for this one-off performance at the Opera House (designer Michael Knapp), the first act kitchen is an island amid the swathes of calico that will become the second-act beach. There are some strange aspects to the directing (Fred Alder), however. A radio mic disembodies her voice, and distracts with distorted volume and by threatening to fall from the side of her face throughout the first scene. Shirley addresses the small window upstage right as “Wall”, although she does directly address us, beyond the fourth wall, most of the time. A bright follow spot is used to illuminate the side scene with Milandra (is she about to break into a song and dance routine, I wonder?).

But the character and story can survive such things and Nancy Schroder (ex-London, now of Ashburton via the Caribbean cruises where, as a dancer, she fell in love with the ship’s doctor) gives an excellent account of Shirley’s journey.

Given there is so much fast-talking story telling, it’s a big challenge to get us empathising with the emotions she felt at the times in question but is not indulging in now. Early on, pace and liveliness takes precedence over insight and pathos but later the moments of truth hit home.

I have no idea what further plans are afoot for this production but if it turns up near you, it’s well worth seeing. Amid the many groups of women ‘of a certain age’ that graced the Opera House last night, couples of all ages enjoyed the experience.
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