Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

shirley head

Shirley Valentine

Hall Green Little Theatre


TOUR de force is a much overworked phrase, but every couple of years or so you come across a performance where there is no other way to describe it – Jean Wilde is Shirley Valentine.

She played the part at Hall Green back in 1994 and, well, she must have done it OK, otherwise she wouldn’t have been asked to do it again a mere 22 years later, and do it she does, confidently nailing the Liverpool housewife who is fighting to rekindle her dreams from the stifling, mundane routine of her life and marriage.

From the moment she bustles into the kitchen to make husband Joe’s tea, to her final invite to Joe to join her for a drink by the surf as the sun slips into evening in her new life on a Greek island, Wilde is Shirley; acerbic, funny, sad, frustrated, angry and most of all frightened that life has passed her by; Shirley Valentine the rebel, the brave, the alive, is being smothered by the humdrum life of Mrs Joe Bradshaw.

Written by Willie Russell in 1986, the one-character play has lost none of its relevance or humanity over the years and no doubt there is now a new generatishirley 1984on of Mrs Bradshaws in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham . . . the appeal is universal.

Just about every wife in the audience recognises Shirley, more familiar to some than others, and although the play is set somewhere in the 1980s, the setting is really anytime between marriage and death, that time when merely being alive and life itself drift apart. Thirty years on Russell’s words are still very funny, very relevant and still ring bells of recognition for many a wife  in the audience.

Jean Wilde as Shirley Valentine in the 1994 production

They are wives whose life has been sucked into a black hole of tedious routine with husbands who have lost whatever spark they had, who expect a set meal for a set day to be on the table as they arrive home at a set time every night, grown up children who still demand attention at the instant they want it, and what is left in between is boring, so boring the only outlet is talking to a wall.

It is a dream role for any actor, the stage to yourself for an entire play, and Wilde, an older wiser Shirley this time around,  grasps it with both hands with an authentic Scouse accent, mixed with a whole host of variations in the voices of the cast of characters who inhabit her life.

She manages all that with an admirably convincing air, which is not the easiest thing to do in the intimate confines of the studio, especially as she was also the director.

The story is simple, Shirley has a marriage that if not loveless, is romanceless, devoid of emotion and excitement, a marriage and a life heading nowhere, and heading there in the same predictable way day after day – until her big friend Jane - that's the one she told you about, the one whose husband ran off with the milkman - anyhow, Jane invites her on a two-week holiday to Greece.

Shirley agonises and eventually heads off for sun and . . . whatever awaits, which in this case is first Costas and then a new life; so, as Jane heads home, Shirley heads back to the beach - Shirley Valentine has found herself again.

Along the way to the return of Shirley Valentine we hear of neighbour Gillian “if you had a headache she would have a brain tumour”, the teachers and heads, the posh, clever school friend Marjorie with the surprising career choice, son Brian, currently a would-be poet, and daughter Millandra, boorish holidaymakers in the hotel and of course Joe and Greek lothario, Costas, all brought to life in a series of monologues. It is a memorable, towering performance.

A mention too for the set builders who created a 1980s kitchen where Wilde even managed to prepare and cook real egg and chips on a real cooker, complete with bread and butter – and well-cooked at that – as well as a Greek beach complete with wall replacement, rock.

The show has sold out – so, unless your wall says otherwise, see if you can grab any returns. It is well worth the effort. To 13-02-16

Roger Clarke


HGLT Box office: 0121 707 1874

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