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A woman's journey to inner freedom

Mahabanoo ... delightful monologue. — Pic. by N. Sridharan.

"IF YOU were describing me to me, I'd say it's a joke.'' That's the 40 something Shirley Valentine summing up her life in a Liverpool flat. This kind of stuff is usually passed over as female mid-life crisis. If anyone dares to see it as an awakening to ``we don't do what we want to do, we do what we have to do'' that would amount to empowerment. Women know that.

Shirley Valentine is in the thick of a non-relationship. Her marriage is like the Indo-Pak situation: there are no solutions. Her husband won't miss her as long as the dinner is on the table on time. As a mother she is `mega-brilliant' and `double-fab' whenever the grown children need her to fetch and carry. She does not indict, nor is she acrimonious.

Playwright Willy Russell gives the title character, Shirley Valentine, to the audience in an hour and a half long monologue, while paring potatoes and sipping a glass of Riesling. She talks to herself all the time.

We meet her on that special day when she has been offered a two-week holiday in Greece.

Without sinking into vituperation and without embarrassment she talks about the absence of romance, a disappointing sex life, husband, children and Shirley Valentine.

Shirley `finds herself' on the vibrant Mediterranean beach and ``lives all of the life she's been given''. Greece is all about self-respect, inner freedom and finding one's space.

The one-woman show started on an energetic note and moved at a comfortable pace. Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal who played Shirley Valentine (she also co-directed the play with Kaizaad Navaroze Kotwal) played true to Willy Russell's tradition of story telling.

Her Shirley was pleasant, warm and friendly. For the audience the play was a delightful journey with Kotwal's Shirley and they turned the other way if the odd next word in the script eluded the actor. They were quick to respond to the humour and willingly journeyed with her all the cathartic way. For the first half, the action was brought downstage, making the audience-Shirley interaction quite intimate.

In the second act the stage was opened up for the Greek awakening. Upstage was a colourfully vibrant sea, with pink clouds in the blue sky and a brilliant sun shimmering on the moving waves. It was beautiful.

Complementing the strengths of the production was an aesthetically designed lighting plan.

Shirley Valentine was an interesting choice for a fundraiser by the Ability Foundation, which has for years been facilitating empowerment and the rights of persons with disabilities to help them find their rightful place in mainstream life.

The play helped draw attention to the reality that disability is at the end of the day a state of the mind, something that can be collectively overcome.

The event was generously supported by the Chennai public, sponsored by RPG Cellular and co-sponsored by Palmolive Aroma Therapy.


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