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Shirley Valentine (Susan Elkin reviews)

Well, it may have been deliciously familiar to an enthusiastic Canterbury audience of aficionados of the film starring Pauline Collins, but I came to this show as a Shirley Valentine virgin. Willy Russell’s immaculately, tenderly observed portrait of a frustrated (in every sense) 1970s Liverpool housewife is as moving as it is hilarious. And the observation of women’s experience is so acutely observed that it’s hard to believe that this is the work of a male playwright. Moreover, although the film (I gather) broadened out the concept it’s a real joy to see a beautifully written one person show which takes an idea, runs with it and develops it for two full hours.

Jodie Prenger creates a totally believable Shirley, making egg and chips for her husband’s tea, chatting hilariously to the audience and, literally, talking to the kitchen wall as she works. Her Scouse accent somehow adds to the humour and ambience perhaps because it subconsciously whizzes us southerners back to the era of the Beatles and Cilla Black. Prenger is a gifted actor amusingly creating other characters with different accents as she goes. Director Glen Walford ensures imaginative use of the stage space especially in the second half when Shirley travels, against all the odds, to Greece and discovers things about herself she either never knew or had long since forgotten after years of tired marriage and grown up children who take her for granted.

Most memorable of all is the way in which the talented Prenger makes her homely, buxom character light up (a fling with a Greek waiter who knows more about female anatomy than her husband or Sigmund Freud helps) and blossom into a flushed, happy, relaxed, confident woman. This is feel-good theatre at its best.

First published by Sardines

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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