I Saw a Play About a Woman Finding Herself & It Was a Wake-up Call

In the dark auditorium, I cried unshed tears and laughed from a deep soul-space. As did others.

3 min read
A poster of the play Shirley Valentine.

There are plays and there are plays. And then there is Shirley Valentine.

There are actor monologues and there are one-woman plays. And then there is Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal’s Shirley.

Wise, funny, caustic, bold with a capital B.

Sample these from Willey Russel’s iconic play:

Shirley Valentine: I think sex is like supermarkets, you know, overrated....
Shirley Valentine: I think that marriage is like the Middle East – there's no solution


In the dark auditorium, I cried unshed tears and laughed from a deep soul-space. As did others. And as I sat transfixed, I realised how much of Shirley most women have in them.

Shirley Valentine is the story of Mrs Bradshaw, a middle-aged woman trapped in a loveless marriage with Joe, her ungrateful, non-communicative husband. Her children are absent and yet domineering. So bored is she of her loneliness that she begins talking to her kitchen wall.
A poster of the play.
A poster of the play.
(Photo Courtesy: Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal)

But one day she performs her first brave act. She flies off on a holiday with her friend Jane to Greece to fulfil her dream of “just once sitting by the sea and sipping wine.” To her shock, Jane abandons her.

Left to her own devices, Shirley begins her new life, which also includes a lover.

What happens then? Does she go back to her home and hearth?

Living an “Unused” Life

How heartbreaking is it to become hostage to somebody else’s world-view, opinions, attitudes, mental traps, routines? To ‘buy peace’ all the time, lest the relationship tip over? How tragic is it to submerge one’s own identity in that of your partner’s, children’s and extended family’s, just because you happen to be a woman? To lose one’s real self and live out your compromised self?

Shirley says,

“I have allowed myself to lead this little life, when inside me there was so much more. And it’s all gone unused. And now it never will be. Why do we get all this life if we don’t ever use it? Why do we get all these feelings and dreams and hopes if we don’t ever use them?”

Don’t get me wrong. Some do it willingly and happily. Others, like Shirley, feel, “We do what we have to do and pretend that it's what we want to do.”

I Saw a Play About a Woman Finding Herself & It Was a Wake-up Call
(Photo Courtesy: Mahabanoo Mody Kotwal)

Most Indian women get so involved in their relationships that they begin drawing life’s entire meaning from their husband’s or their children’s lives. And when the husband and children become emotionally distant, the woman feels lost. For (gasp!) she has forgotten who she was!

And while an escape plan (from the city, country, relationship, etc.) always seems a tempting fantasy, it does not always work. For how can one escape from oneself?

Shirley quickly realises that the person she is looking for isn’t a lover; she’s looking for herself.

Here’s what she says to herself, “Shirley Valentine, I know you are still in there and one day I’ll find you in me or maybe I won’t but someone else will, and that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be Joe!”

Dear women, never allow your life to become meaningless in the first place. Pamper yourself with hobbies, friends, solo trips and anything that nourishes your soul and gives you joy.

The solution lies in turning inwards and finding what is important to you.

And if you don’t/can’t, perhaps “Shirley Valentine” could be your wake-up call.


Why You Should Watch It

Watch this play for its rollicking bold humour. Like the time 42-year-old Shirley names her lover Christopher Columbus because he has finally discovered her clitoris!

Watch it for its heart-tugging emotions. Like when she aches for her long-time husband to truly “listen” to her. Or longs to sit by her absent children and talk “Not as your mother, but as another human being.”

Watch it to discover bits of your own life, your raw self, your yesterdays and the woman you perhaps wanted to be.

And if all of this resonates with you, you may like to contact the powerful actor at to unleash a banquet of emotions on stage for you. And she might just graciously agree!

(Neelam Kumar is a TEDx Speaker, Author, Life Skills Coach, Writing Coach, Cancer crusader. She can be reached at Tweet to her @blueneelam.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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