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Thursday, 16 March 2017

REVIEW: Shirley Valentine at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking


“Shirley is a Liverpool housewife. Her kids have left home and she makes chips and egg for her husband while talking to the wall. Where has her life disappeared to? Out of the blue, her best friend offers her a trip to Greece for 2 weeks and she secretly packs her bags. She heads for the sun and starts to see the world and herself very differently.”

“Willy Russell’s heart-warming comedy premiered in 1986 and took the world by storm. It was adapted into an Oscar nominated film. Now, on its 30th anniversary, Jodie Prenger stars in the first major revival of this national treasure.”

Until Shirley Valentine, the prospect of a one-woman show used to strike fear into my bones. The entire show rests on one actor’s shoulders and if they’re unlikable or uninteresting, you’re stuck in a seemingly never-ending monologue of dreary house-wife woes and inner musings. Willy Russell’s masterpiece, Shirley Valentine is brought to life by Jodie Prenger (One Man Two Guvnors,
Spamalot, Oliver!) with sincerity, confidence and most importantly – ease. There was never a dull moment – no excessively long, pensive pauses or overly-dramatic narrations; just a very normal every day woman, chatting away to the inanimate objects in her home (namely the wall), much to the audiences’ joy. 

Shirley Valentine (now married and with the surname Bradshaw) soliloquises her woes of times gone by and loss of joie de vivre. An unexpected invite to Greece with her best friend Jane throws a serious spanner into the works as she considers whether her family could cope at home without her should she choose to travel to this Mediterranean paradise. 

We learn of Shirley’s struggles in marriage, self-confidence and friendships. Prenger makes Liverpudlian home-maker Shirley beyond lovable. She's an everywoman - from start to finish, you are unconditionally rooting for her, not only because of Russell's masterful writing, but the irresistible charm in Prenger's wonderful portrayal. 

The sets are simple and realistic - no frills or un-necessary embellishments, just
a plain kitchen for Act I and a rocky seaside for Act II. Much like the staging, writing and lighting, it's its simplicity which adds such charm to this show. It's grounded, witty and very real. 

This show isn't a spectacle, nor a gut-burstingly funny comedy, nor a tear-jerking drama. It is however a beautifully reimagined version of a classic monologue which will leave you wondering "What did I do with all that wasted life?" and whether you should book that holiday of a lifetime you can't stop thinking about.

Inspiring and charming. 

Review by Harriet Langdown

Rating: ★★★★

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