Shaleen Surtie-Richards is an open book, just like Shirley Valentyn

Shaleen Surtie-Richards is an open book, just like Shirley Valentyn

PETER TROMP spoke to SHALEEN SURTIE-RICHARDS, who is back in Cape Town reprising her award winning role in ‘Shirley Valentyn’.


How did you get into show business?
Boredom, sheer boredom. Coming from Upington, there was little to do for young people. At the time (in the old South Africa) the then Department of Coloured Affairs sent a young man to start a drama group in Upington. I joined and the rest, as they say, is history. I was in my early twenties at the time.

In your expansive career, what do you count among your personal highlights thus far?
Every part I have played for me is a highlight because I really try to make the most of every single role that I have performed and I try to make every character my own. Forty-five awards later and thank God it seems to have worked so far.

How does it feel to be back in Cape Town with ‘Shirley Valentyn’, especially after the success the show has enjoyed so far?
What a question. What can I say? Pure joy, joy and more joy. It feels like I am home again when I am in Cape Town and at the Baxter. This is a very special city for me and for many people I am sure.

The character appears to have touched a lot of people. What do you think it is about her that makes people fall in love with her? 
Shirley Valentyn says everything that all women would love to say but can’t. She calls a spade a spade. She most certainly does not mince her words. She is honest, straight-forward and very funny. I really love and respect the character.

What was your process in realising her? Did you approach the role differently to past ones? 
I approach every role differently. You meet people, you talk and then you decide that you are going to work together one day. Two people in my entire life kept that promise – it was Pieter-Dirk Uys and Hennie van Greunen. So my process with ‘Shirley Valentyn’ was with Hennie – finding Shirley and becoming Shirley.

People know you mostly from TV, but I believe your history is actually in the theatre. Has ‘Shirley Valentyn’ been your return to the stage, or is it merely a stopgap before the next big TV project?
My preference has and will always be the stage. Circumstances in my career led me to television which I have been grateful for and which I have enjoyed tremendously over the years.

Hennie van Greunen did a fantastic job with the translation. Did you have any creative input with the text?
Yes, Hennie and I was a match made in heaven with this production. He has the most brilliant ideas and I just coloured them in. I do actually believe that he is an undercover coloured person.

You’ve worked with some of the best known names in SA entertainment during your career. Who have you particularly enjoyed collaborating with?
Pieter-Dirk Uys gave me the opportunity at the Edinburgh Festival some years ago and there I went on to perform in London to rave reviews. I could not believe such glowing responses from the media there. And since then I will always have a soft spot in my heart for him. And then, of course, there is Hennie. I really enjoy working with him and we work well together.

What are among your secrets for having had such a long and successful career in the South African entertainment world? Do you have any advice to young and aspiring performers?
Just be true to yourself. Believe in yourself. Know what you want. Get up and fetch it but be prepared to work hard, make sacrifices and always be professional. This is no secret, it’s a fact. Young people who want to be in the industry must do it for the right reasons – it is not about the fame. It’s about your commitment to the arts.

Please tell me something about yourself that people may not know about you. 
My life is such an open book. Everybody knows everything about me. Believe me, I can’t keep things to myself.
* ‘Shirley Valentyn’ is showing at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio until February 18. Book at Computicket.