The tale of a middle-aged woman demarcated by society. The story of a mother with grown children who finds herself without an identity. The saga of a wife with a complacent husband who finds more stimulation in a beige wall. Shirley Valentine is familiar to many, not only as a result of its absorption into popular culture, but its acute display of the stereotypes and social roles that women play.
It might have been thirty years since Willy Russell introduced us to Shirley Valentine, played in the Oscar winning film by Pauline Collins, but the themes of social expectations, emotional stagnation, ageing and loneliness still remain relevant, as the UK will see on this new tour.
The age of 42 isn’t even half way through the average British woman’s life expectancy, but when the monotony of housework and tedium of daily life set in, it’s easy to wonder whether life has anything more to offer. But, with some hope, things change. You can’t avoid reality, and you know you’re never ‘gonna be a girl again–because you can never be that; but instead of sayin’ ‘Christ, I’m forty-two’. I’m gonna say – ‘Shirley, you’re only forty-two, isn’t that marvellous’.’
That’s what Liverpool housewife Shirley Valentine found, played in this one-woman show by the vivacious and charismatic Jodie Prenger. Escaping from her claustrophobic world to the sunny climes of Greece, courtesy of a sudden offer from a friend, the story may well be a cliché of mid-life crisis and holiday romance, but the familiar and witty script keeps it fresh. So much is similar that it’s only really through Amy Yardley’s stage that audiences are aware that the action is set in the 1980s, not 2017. Power dressing and blonde highlights, novelty Milk Tray and wine, the suburban northern kitchen – all of it enhances the chattering and musing, everything combining in a kind of merry hum that perfectly reflects the story and moral. And, marriage still is ‘just like the Middle East. There’s no solution.’
From the opening scene with Shirley making chips and egg for husband Joe while she drinks wine and talks to the wall, to the white walls of Greece, there’s a warm humour and natural vulnerability permeating throughout the monologue. This latest production of Shirley Valentine may not revolutionise either our ideas of womanhood, but neither will it rock the pleasure of the story. Nostalgic yes, cliched, a little – but still highly resonant and enjoyable.