Millerchip powers up for new challenge after offstage ‘reboot’
FIVE or so years ago, Mark Kilmurry, artistic director of the Ensemble Theatre, asked Sharon Millerchip if she would star in Willy Russell’s muchloved comic monologue Shirley Valentine. She told him she had decided to step away from performing.
Undeterred, he approached her the next year and got the same answer. Rather than offer the role to someone else, he decided to wait. Each year he came back to her, until finally Millerchip said yes.
“It’s incredible. I was so flattered that he’s got that much confidence in me,” says Millerchip.
Shirley Valentine premiered in 1986 and was immediately embraced by audiences. In 1989, Pauline Collins immortalised the role on screen. Shirley is an unfulfilled, middle-aged, working-class Liverpudlian housewife who feels that life has passed her by.
So, when a friend invites her on an all-expenses-paid holiday to Greece, she accepts. Leaving a note for her emotionally distant husband, she sets out on an adventure that will change her life.
The play will mark the first time Millerchip has been on stage since 2013 when she starred in another solo piece for the Ensemble: Joanna Murray Smith’s Bombshells.
Millerchip’s numerous stage credits include Last Of The Red Hot Lovers also for the Ensemble, and musicals including The Phantom Of The Opera, Love Never Dies, and Chicago in which she has played both Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly.
But after more than 20 years on stage she decided she needed a break in order to “reboot” and took on roles as children’s director and then resident director on Baz Luhrmann’s musical Strictly Ballroom, followed by resident director on Disney’s Aladdin.
“It sounds cliched to say I’ve learned a lot but it’s been of great benefit to me to really challenge myself and to be given those sorts of opportunities. I’m really appreciative,” she says. “And now I’ve got a deeper well to draw on.”
When Millerchip was first sent the script for Shirley Valentine, she read it three or four times. “And at several places in the script, I just burst into tears. I had these pangs of recognition that I think anybody will get. I think that’s why (the play) does connect with people, that we all see ourselves in her,” she says.
“Anybody who has entertained the thought, ‘am I doing all that I could be doing with my life? Or am I spending too much time in pursuit of something instead of being ‘in’ my life?’ (will relate to it),” says Millerchip.
“All these questions that we ask ourselves Shirley kind of tackles. She doesn’t realise she’s being philosophical, she just has these very honest observations and discoveries, and it’s so beautiful to watch her form these brave thoughts. I think that’s why we’re with her all the time.”
Sharon Millerchip as Shirley Valentine.