Shirley Valentine is a middle-aged housewife who talks to the wall. She is married to Joe and has been a faithful wife and mother. Stuck in the rut of an unfulfilled marriage of routine and domestic drudgery she longs for another life.
Shirley’s best friend Jane, who is unattached since she discovering her husband in bed with the milkman, seems to enjoy a carefree existence and is able to experience a world that Shirley can only dream about.
This however, changes when Jane books a holiday to Greece and not only invites Shirley but gives her the tickets so as to make her decision more difficult.
Of course Shirley wants to go but how does she tell Joe, a man who for the whole of their married life has considered their annual holiday to the Isle of Wight – abroad.
Whilst the holiday is only three weeks away, Shirley struggles with her desire to change her life and become Shirley Valentine once more and leave drudgery behind. As a wife and mother she is caught up in being the constant in the lives of her family and wonders if she should go at all.
Eventually, she decides that she cannot let this opportunity slip away, whilst also knowing that if she tells Joe he will throw a fit, talk her out of it and tell her how stupid she is being.
So confiding in the kitchen wall, to whom she constantly chats, she plans to accompany Jane to Greece.
With all her domestic plans in place, Joe’s meals cooked and in the freezer, her mother coming over to defrost and microwave for him, Shirley buys new clothes for the new her that will go to Greece.
On the day of departure Shirley leaves by taxi and her adventure begins.
Once in Greece Jane hooks up with a man and Shirley spends the first few days by herself. She enjoys the freedom of not being at the beck and call of anyone else and she spends her days exploring the island and soaking up the sun and culture and slowly but surely a new Shirley is reborn – Shirley Valentine of her youth has returned.
With the scales peeled from her eyes she sees the people around her in a new light. The holiday makers at her hotel and the local population, Shirley has gone ‘native’.
Her transformation is complete when she meets Costas, the owner of a local tavern, who helps her fulfill her dream of drinking wine by the sea in the country where the grapes are grown.
Promising not to take advantage of her, the following day he takes her out for the day around the islands in his brother’s boat. The experience is life changing for Shirley, bolstering her confidence in herself and her attractiveness.
On the day of departure, as they are stood in the airport check-in queue Shirley realises she cannot go back to her old life and with the shouts of Jane and fellow passengers following her “come back!” she walks out of the airport and away from her old life and into a new one as she decides to stay in Greece and ask Costas for a job.
When she gets to the tavern Costas is already ‘chatting up’ the next woman, but Shirley hasn’t come back for Costas she has gone back for herself, the youthful, carefree, adventurer who was buried deep inside and who has finally emerged.
Now working evenings at the tavern, Shirley has fielded several phone calls from Joe demanding that she come home. Now, he has decided that his only course of action is to go to Greece to bring her back. Shirley on the other hand has no intention of returning and is sure that Joe will pass her by before recognising her as the happy changed woman she has become.
Shirley Valentine is the creation of writer Willy Russell. She is a manifestation of the 1960/70s middle-aged woman who married young, brought up a family and supported her husband.
Playwright Willy Russell was brought up in Liverpool surrounded by a family of strong women. At the age of 15 he left school to work at a womens’ hairdressers before returning to education and his career as a writer. It is clear that his observations of the women that surrounded him have had an effect on his writing as he has captured their essence as well as the secret dreams and aspirations of women of this time perfectly.
As a one-woman play Shirley Valentine is a triumph of female characterisation. As Shirley, Jodie Prenger skilfully develops her personality as the play unfolds and she tells her story. As she works her way around the kitchen and talks to the audience and of course the ‘wall’ you are drawn into her world and even the younger theatre goer gains a greater understanding of the life she leads and the life she dreams of.
It did feel as if it was a little bit of a slow burn, but this character could not have been rushed as she bared her soul and inner dreams before us.
Prenger’s portrayal of Shirley was a realistic and believable one. The audience was biased towards women, it has to be said of a certain age, who were empathetic to the character and her situation. The unsuppressed laughter at Shirley’s description of her life and encounters was encouraging as you realised that the audience ‘got it’.
Glen Walford has directed this production with the imagination and skill that you would have expected given her directing pedigree.
Although there are only two scene locations both felt familiar. The kitchen, the heart of the home, and the beach in Greece. I particularly liked the subtle lighting effects that gave movement to the sea it added to the atmosphere without distracting.
If there is one take away moment it has to be watching Prenger actually cooking chips’n’egg on stage, and as the lights dimmed for the next scene I couldn’t help smiling to myself as a male stage hand came on to clean the kitchen area. Something that her Joe would have been horrified at seeing, but then I wondered, would any of the younger women in the audience have even noticed?
Prenger did not disappoint as Shirley and received a well deserved standing ovation for giving us two hours of sheer pleasure.
Shirley Valentine plays at Cardiff’s New Theatre from;
Tuesday 27 June – Saturday 1 July at 7.30pm
On Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday there are performances at 2.30pm.
For further details about the show or to book tickets call the Box Office on 02920878889.