The Theatreguide.London Review
things are undeniably true about playwright Willy Russell. He is
brilliant at writing working class women characters and, although he
can be dark (c.f. Blood Brothers) he's at his most attractive writing
lovely, engaging and life-affirming fables (Even Blood Brothers has
that quality until about two-thirds of the way through).
could possibly be more endearing than that of Shirley Valentine, the
42-year old Liverpool housewife who is just becoming aware of how much
her life has shrunk and dried up when a two-week holiday in Greece
has a brief
affair with a Greek waiter (of course), but mainly rediscovers her love
for life and for herself, and has the warm wisdom to end the play
prepared to offer the same opportunity to her bewildered husband.
who know only the 1989 film may be surprised to find that the original
play is a monologue.
of the other
characters appears - they are all just described or imitated by Shirley
as she chatters away to (in the absence of any other sympathetic
listeners) her kitchen wall or a rock on the Greek beach. (That idea
may sound horribly twee, but it is actually infectiously jolly, and
draws the audience into her tale.)
hundreds of actresses have played Shirley over the years - including
Russell himself, who once filled in for an ailing star and wound up
winning a Best Actress award - and it works every time, adapting to
what each performer brings to it.
by Glen Walford, Meera Syal brings a comedienne's timing and control of
the audience, finding all the jokes - and there are many - without
having to strain or push them too hard. She has a small tendency to
rush through the more serious moments, perhaps a bit too eager to get
to the next laugh, but that will probably even out in time, as she
comes to trust the quieter moments more.
warmth and health and generosity come through even now, making this one
of those rare theatrical experiences you actually come out of feeling
good and refreshed and, in some private way, healed.
is being offered in rep with Russell's Educating
Rita, with a different
cast and director - evidently the first time anyone has ever thought to
The plays complement each other nicely, as both are about women finding an unexpected path to richer and happier lives, and both are done so well here that it would be difficult to recommend one over the other. See both - check with the theatre for the performance schedule - and get a double dose of Willy Russell's life-affirming elixir.
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Shirley Valentine - Menier 2010