Jodie Prenger as Shirley Valentine

Shirley Valentine

Malvern Theatres


Willy Russell’s portrayal of a woman looking to escape the trap of empty domestic routines is as witty and clever as ever.

In Shirley Valentine we see his similar themes to those in Educating Rita: the blunt, raw humour and sarcasm of such women are cutting, hilarious and at times quite sad.

Shirley (now Bradshaw since she married John Bradshaw) has long lost the excitement of early romance with her husband, her children have grown up and fled the nest, they no longer need her.

She feels like a domestic slave for a husband who demands his food on the table the moment he returns from work. Meaningful conversation is no longer a satisfying part of their relationship, so the opportunity to escape to Greece for a three week holiday with her friend Jane becomes a huge and eventually irresistible temptation.

Having once thus dared to flout convention and escape the shackles of her domestic duties, she feels a fresh exhilaration and potential that she wants to experience to the full and believes the same could potentially liberate her husband if he likewise had the courage to kick over the traces.

The script is full of witty, raw, Liverpudlian humour and innuendo: society was liberalising and exploring free love, beginning to despise marriage, social duty and the repression of women.

Unlike the film produced back in the eighties, the stage production has just one actor, the protagonist herself, which heightens the sense of her alienation and isolation. She talks to the wall or the rock, bares her soul to the audience but has no human interaction on stage.

She becomes both the dreamer and the rebel who fearfully but courageously breaks out for ‘freedom’.

The demands on a performer to hold the audience for the whole evening on her own are considerable and Jodie Prenger does a brilliant job in that respect. She has a great presence on stage, her voice has tremendous variety. Although the accent varies a little, her vocal range and versatility with taking off different accents is impressive. She has an ability to use pauses and subtle facial expressions to achieve excellent comic impact.

The design of the show is strong. The first act is the domestic kitchen – rather too smart a middle class one, I thought. Jodie Prenger’s ability to prepare and cook egg and chips while delivering her lines was well supported by the sound effects and the smell of the frying chips reaching our nostrils in the auditorium. 

The set in Act Two worked particularly well as we lose the confines of the kitchen very successfully for a sense of space, sunshine and water. Again the sound effects were well utilised, and the story-telling was effective and very humorous.

Some of the themes in the play have lost a bit of relevance, but under the humour there remain some serious and universal issues: the nature of happiness and fulfilment, the meaning of relationships, marriage and family, the issues surrounding gender and social roles, the human capacity to dream and pursue life.

Willy Russell’s ability to raise such issues and indeed to make some points in so doing while remaining hugely entertaining are his brilliant gift. The audience were delighted. The show runs in Malvern till Saturday 29th July.

Tim Crow


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