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Jackie Clarke ‘petrified and exhilarated’ to tackle one-woman show Shirley Valentine

Jackie Clarke ‘petrified and exhilarated’ to tackle one-woman show Shirley Valentine

All-round entertainer Jackie Clarke is taking on a mighty challenge as the star of the Tadpole Productions season of Shirley Valentine. She talks to MiNDFOOD about how thrilled she is to be acting in the one-woman show.

Jackie Clarke ‘petrified and exhilarated’ to tackle one-woman show Shirley Valentine

Jackie Clarke is no stranger to the stage. She’s toured and recorded with New Zealand’s most prominent musicians, belted out showtunes in myriad musicals, and flexed her comedic muscles while hosting large crowds. But even for a seasoned performer, being cast as the eponymous heroine in the award-winning play Shirley Valentine by Willy Russell presents an exciting new challenge. “I’m used to holding a stage on my own, but I’ve never done a theatrical piece like this that’s so intensely full of dialogue,” she says. “It’s basically going to be just me speaking for 90 minutes!” It should come as no surprise that Clarke, 55, sees the biggest hurdle in preparing for the one-woman show as getting the lines down pat. “Even though the words are all so delicious and the play’s so funny and so well-written, the main challenge is to just get it all in my brain,” she explains. “Being of a certain age, it takes me longer to really learn things than it used to when I was 20. But on the other hand, I’ve got more emotional intelligence at this age than I did at 20, so I’ll take that pay-off anyway.”

Emotional intelligence is essential to do Shirley justice, with the play being centred on her journey of self-discovery. Shirley is a bored and lonely English housewife in her 40s trapped in a loveless marriage and suffering from eroded self-esteem. A trip to Greece with a girlfriend allows Shirley’s eyes to be opened to the world outside the walls of her kitchen – and she finally gets to live the life she thought she could only dream of. “There’s a whole big wide world out there and she has to give herself permission to get out there in amongst it,” says Clarke. “The backbone of the play is this wonderful emotional journey that she goes on, and I know a lot of women, a lot of people, will relate to that – finally coming into yourself.” Clarke believes the play reminds us to be true to ourselves and to make brave choices. “I think that’s a beautiful message for everybody at any age – just take those big leaps forward into the great unknown and be afraid, challenge yourself and have an adventure. It’s not like there’s a cut-off point for that sort of behaviour.”

The play has been an audience favourite ever since it first debuted in 1986, winning numerous prestigious Tony and Olivier awards and nominations. Characters are brought to life as seen through Shirley’s eyes, but ultimately the play’s popularity comes back to the heroine being, in Clarke’s words, “a twinkly-eyed delight”. “She is very funny and very loving and very fabulous, she just doesn’t know that she’s allowed to be at the start of the play,” says Clarke. “We have this wonderful opportunity to see the lightbulb going off in her head as she realises that she can actually do the stuff she wants to do, she’s allowed, she can be the boss of her own life.”

The play will be staged by Tadpole Productions at the PumpHouse Theatre in Takapuna, Auckland – a venue that will truly allow the audience to connect with Shirley. “The PumpHouse has got a lovely, friendly vibe, and I think it’s the perfect size for something like this,” she says. “Most of the play takes place in Shirley’s kitchen, so we’ll all feel like we’re in that one room together.” In spite of the many lines she has to learn and having to perfect a tricky Liverpudlian accent, Clarke’s excitement about the play is palpable. “This is going to make my year,” she reveals. “I’m so thrilled to have a challenge like this, it feels awesome, because it’s 50 per cent petrifying and 50 per cent exhilarating, which I think is such a great place to be in. I’m really happy to have the opportunity, and Shirley Valentine is such a great woman – it’s going to be a pleasure to be inside her skin for the duration of the season.”

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