One Last Time As Shirley Valentine – Powerhouse Theatre

Actress bids adieu to an old friend

By Kristin Froneman – Vernon Morning Star

Nicola Cavendish drinks to the character of Shirley Valentine, whom the actress has portrayed since 1990. Cavendish gives a benefit performance of the one-woman play at Powerhouse Theatre March 31 and April 1.

Barbara Zimonick 

“Hello, wall.”

It’s been more than two decades since Nicola Cavendish first uttered those two words. And no, she wasn’t talking to herself, exactly, but to thousands of people in theatres across Canada as her alter ego Shirley Valentine.

The Okanagan-raised actress has played the lonely British housewife, who rediscovers her mojo when she takes a trip to Greece, more times than she can count. And it’s with a heavy heart, and a sigh of relief, that Cavendish is hanging up Shirley’s apron for a few final performances.

She just wrapped up two runs of the play in Winnipeg and Calgary, and comes to Vernon for two special “words only” performances, March 31 and April 1, in support of Powerhouse Theatre.

“What I’ve come to realize in my professional life, at least part of it, is the importance of payback and paying it forward. Good things come, and it takes so little to give so much. Shirley has been a bit more of an extension of that,” said Cavendish over the phone from Calgary, where she was getting ready to deliver her upteempth performance.

Cavendish’s performance of Shirley Valentine in Vernon is one way for her to give back –– it’s a return to her roots, literally and figuratively.

Born in England, Cavendish moved with her family to Canada when she was five years old. Between 1957 and 1961, the family moved across the country until they ended up in Vancouver, where her mother attended university.

It was after arriving in B.C. that her father discovered the Okanagan, moving the family to Penticton, where Cavendish attended high school, and started appearing in drama productions.

“I had heard about Powerhouse Theatre back when I was 16, mostly due to (late founding Powerhouse member) Paddy Malcolm English,” said Cavendish.

It was Powerhouse director Dave Sayer who connected with Cavendish before staging her play, It’s Snowing on Saltspring, at the Vernon community theatre this past December.

“My father, who is 87 now, and my sister came to see the show at Powerhouse. I was thrilled they staged it.Saltspring makes people happy. It reminds people not to judge and to be a kid, with the idea of the life ahead that comes at the end of the play,” she said.

This next show at Powerhouse will be a way for Okanagan audiences to say goodbye to Cavendish’s staging of an iconic character.

Written by former hairdresser Willy Russell, the story extends from being an ‘80s feminist take of a woman who decides to throw away her old life for new horizons. Captured on film and stage by Pauline Collins in the British version, Cavendish says Shirley has universal appeal and, in some cases, has served to open a few gents’ eyes to a woman’s needs and desires.

“Shirley is accessible to audiences in that she speaks to many women, but her experience also speaks to men in a generous way in that they get crisp insight on how women think,” said Cavendish. “I’ve had men come up to me after and say thank you. (Shirley) reaches into the hearts of people, and shows that it feels good to feel. I think the theatre must effect people to rise to that challenge.”

After 22 years of playing Shirley, Cavendish says she wants to leave while the party is still on.

“Shirley is a mountain,” said Cavendish. “When you’re doing two shows a night, talking, feeling, emoting, laughing, and making the audience laugh, it can be rather exhausting. There’s also the time frame. I have to cook a meal (the famed chips and egg scene Shirley makes for her “invisible” husband for his tea), so I can’t get behind or let my mind stray. I have to remember what I just said.”

Then there’s the stamina needed to play a woman almost 20 years her junior, although listening to Cavendish, energy doesn’t seem to be a problem.

She has boundless amounts for a woman about to turn 60, and who only last year, suffered a brain hemorrhage and the devastating loss of her husband.

“I am fearful for my brain, and don’t want to tax myself. It takes at least two years to heal from a hemorrhage,” she said. “But I think I have evolved even deeper. I still have the adventures –– trips on the back of a Harley with my husband –– to cherish, and he is with me all the time.”

That other journey she began as Shirley in 1990 at the Vancouver Playhouse, will end after Vernon at Victoria’s McPherson Playhouse. (Although Cavendish hints she would consider returning to the stage as Shirley if ever approached by a medical group to do a fundraiser.)

In this case, she is helping Vernon’s community theatre, which is an all volunteer-based organization, to raise funds so they can continue to bring theatre to the area.

“I know how hard it is for a community theatre, and I hope the community knows how important it is,” said Cavendish. “I think they have risen above, and with that I wanted to come to Vernon… for respect.”

Powerhouse Theatre welcomes Cavendish to the stage March 31 at 8 p.m. and April 1 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30 (all seats) at the Ticket Seller box office in the Performing Arts Centre. Call 250-549-7469 or visit to order.




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