ComedyMusicalReviewSouth West

Shirley Valentine – New Theatre, Cardiff

Writer: Willy Russell

Director: Glen Walford

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

Holiday time is here, and with it come thoughts of jetting off to exotic climes, sunshine and wine, with maybe a touch of romance thrown in.  How timely, then, is a revival of Shirley Valentine, Willy Russell’s enduringly popular 1986 rom-com.  First written as a one-act play, it was presented on stage as a one-woman show – of which this is the first major revival – and subsequently made into an award-winning and the immensely popular film starring the baby-faced Pauline Collins.

Although in today’s climate there are probably not many housewives sitting bored at home after their fledgelings have fled the nest, most have to work, but this heart-warming comedy still strikes a chord with contemporary audiences.  Who does not sympathise with the central character, who feels that she has become invisible, and that life has passed her by? This time it’s Jodie Prenger who plays Shirley, the middle-aged Liverpudlian housewife who, reduced to talking to her kitchen wall about her problems, feels that she has become nothing but a dogsbody to her husband.

Her confidence is at a low ebb when a surprise invitation to go to Greece for a fortnight’s holiday comes her way. Despite her misgivings, and unbeknown to her negligent husband, she goes.  Relaxing in the sun, she meets up with a handsome Greek who owns a tavern and takes it upon himself to teach her a thing or two. 

Director Glen Walford’s take on the play is clever, with some neat touches that underscore the underlying themes behind the comedic. It says much for the talented Prenger that she is able to commit to a role that is inevitably identified with Collins, and put her own take on it.  Over the top, at times as she is, particularly in Act One, she gets the message across with an evident relish for Russell’s superb satiric humour.  On the downside, the Scouse accent makes some of the words difficult to hear.  Moreover, Prenger does not appear entirely at ease with it in the first half, with occasional lapses into ‘normal’ English in the second half.

Where Prenger scores, is in the way she makes the other characters in Russell’s wonderful script come to life entirely believable, although we never see them – not an easy task, and she does it brilliantly.  The husband who takes her for granted, the Greek tavern owner Costas with a sympathetic touch and an eye for the ladies, Shirley’s friends and neighbours – they are all here.

Sets by designer Amy Yardley backed up by lighting designer James Whiteside, are an important factor and rise to the challenge, with a kitchen faithful to the era complete with Spider plant on the windowsill and, in the last half,  some blatantly pseudo rocks beside an azure sea.

Runs until Saturday 1 July 2017 | Image: Manuel Harlan

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