Miller­chip pow­ers up for new challenge after off­stage ‘re­boot’

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER - SHIRLEY VALEN­TINE, EN­SEM­BLE THEATRE, MAY 3 — JUNE 9. BOOK: 9929 0644 JO LITSON ARTS WRITER [email protected]­POND.COM

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.

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