Shirley Valentine

May 31 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆    Vibrant

King’s Theatre: Tue 30 May – Sat 3 June
Review by Thom Dibdin

Raw, potent and very real, Jodie Prenger’s performance in Shirley Valentine at the King’s and on tour, is a class act.

There are the odd moments when her Scouse accent is what you might call “geographically interesting” as it brings in hints of both Knightsbridge and County Down, but in terms of getting into the skin Willy Russell’s great creation, she nails it.

Jodie Prenger as Shirley Valentine. Pic Manuel Harlan

Written after Educating Rita and Blood Brothers, and very much in a similar tone, Shirley Valentine is the feel-good, feel-sad tale of a woman who realises that the best bits of life have passed her by. Here is regret and self-doubt written in the life a 42 year-old woman with grown-up kids – and a husband who uses the fact that he loves her to ignore her.

So when her best friend invites her for a fortnight’s holiday in Greece, a holiday she knows her husband would never go on, it’s the opportunity for her to discover the woman she was half a life-time ago. The girl who wasn’t yet Mrs Shirley Bradshaw, but was still Shirley Valentine and full of dreams.

Those who know the show only through the film might be slightly perturbed that there is no Tom Conti figure to come jumping out of the shadows. This is pure monologue, however, and its first 40 minute act is as good a bit of stand-up comedy as you could want to see on the King’s stage.

deftly physical

Here, in her hum-drum suburban house, Shirley bemoans her lot, drinks wine and talks to the wall while cooking egg and chips ready for the moment her man comes through the door. All the while she is pouring scorn on the institutions which have miss-shaped her – and wandering off into circumlocutory tales of her life.

Jodie Prenger. Pic Manuel Harlan

Prenger hits the comedy bang on. Her impressions are assured and deftly physical: Of the girl in her class at school whose mum spent her savings on elocution lessons; of Shirley’s son declaiming as Joseph in the school nativity play; of the nosey neighbour she meets while buying some new scanties in Marks and Sparks; and of her daughter when she attempts to return home. These yarns are all told with an understanding of where the laugh lines are and how to time them.

It probably helps that this 30th anniversary tour is directed by Glen Walford, who commissioned and directed the original 1986 production at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool with Noreen Kershaw and is directing the show for the fifth time. She helps Prenger find the pace of the piece, the way it draws you in – what ever your gender.

Shirley Valentine, whether the stage play or the film with Pauline Collins and Mr Conti, is often regarded as being aimed exclusively at a female audience. It certainly has the odd, rabble-rousing line of man-blaming and plenty of well-made jokes at the expense of men. But the strength of the script is that it is based on truths which are common to all – then as they are now.

Jodie Prenger. Pic Manuel Harlan

Looking at it now – 30 years on without a word changed – and the only things which reek of the Eighties are Prenger’s outfits and Amy Yardley’s set design. Shirley’s kitchen in the first half is fine, but the strangely incandescent seaside rocks when Shirley has made it to her Greek island would not have looked out of place on stage in Studio 54.

Even the Brits abroad haven’t changed much, with their derision of the local culture. So much so, that it would be easy to try and force in a contemporary Brexit resonance. It is to her credit that Prenger holds back from raising an eyebrow and leaves the audience to draw its own connections.

Judie Prenger might not have created the definitive Shirley Valentine, but she is very much her own Shirley Valentine and one who is as capable of raising a tear as a laugh and note of reconciliation as one of division, in a solidly entertaining night out.

Running time: 2 hours (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Tuesday 30 May – Saturday 3 June 2017
Evenings: 7.30 pm; Matinees: Weds & Sat: 2.30 pm.
Tickets and details:

Tour website:
Shirley Valentine on Twitter: @ShirleyVonstage
Shirley Valentine on Facebook: shirleyvalentineonstage

Shirley Valentine on tour:
Tue 30 May – Sat 3 Jun Edinburgh
King’s Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
Tue 6 – Sat 10 Jun Coventry
Belgrade Theatre
024 765 3055 Book online
Mon 12 – Sat 17 Jun Swindon
Wyvern Theatre
01793 524481 Book online
Mon 19 – Sat 24 Jun Salford
The Lowry
0843 208 6000 Book online
Tue 27 Jun – Sat 1 Jul Cardiff
New Theatre
029 2087 8889 Book online
Mon 3 – Sat 8 Jul Tunbridge Wells
Assembly Hall Theatre
01892 530613 Book online
Mon 10 – Sat 15 Jul Shrewsbury
Theatre Severn
01743 281281 Book online
Mon 17 – Sat 22 Jul Brighton
Theatre Royal
0844 871 7650 Book online
Mon 24 – Sat 29 Jul Malvern
Festival Theatre
01684 892277 Book online
Mon 11 – Sat 16 Sep Blackpool
Grand Theatre
01253 290190 Book online
Mon 18 – Sat 23 Sept New Brighton
Floral Pavilion
0151 666 0000 Book online


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