Cooking, cleaning and having your husband’s food ready to hit the table as he walks through the door. We are all familiar with the stereotypical housewife, and Shirley fits this description perfectly – until she decides that enough is enough and jets off to Greece to follow the dreams she has never dared to express.
Shirley Valentine does not have the most complex of plotlines. A 1980s housewife is restless and disappointed with her life, and so overcome with the desire to rediscover her identity, she runs away to Greece for a few weeks and does not want to go home. However, what makes it a compelling piece of theatre is the playwright Willy Russell’s insightful ability to write the female voice and comedy that comes alive on stage. The dialogue was undoubtedly sharp, witty and delivered flawlessly by actress Jodie Prenger.
Prenger (Shirley Valentine) brings this one-woman show to life with a brilliant energy that she holds consistently throughout the performance. This woman is incredibly funny. With spot on comedic timing and an ability to draw in a theatre full of people, Prenger keeps the audience entertained from start to finish. She is clearly a highly skilled actress, showing a great range of vocal talent as she does humorous impressions of the other characters from her world, filling the night with anecdotes and stories.
Between acts, the stage set shifted from being a domestic kitchen environment with warm tones and lighting to a beach with fairly surreal vibes. One could speculate that the fantasy-like aesthetics of the second act are reflective of Shirley Valentine’s journey, as she travels to Greece to live out her ‘fantasy’. The domesticity of the original stage set compliments her role as a housewife. It appears that she physically cooks a meal of egg and chips on stage, which is either evidence of a very believable special effect or the finely tuned multitasking abilities of Prenger.
The sound effects are minimalistic and used gently in the background to create a sense of atmosphere. The show’s use of lighting become more prominent in the second act, with the bright blue background contrasting intensely with the orange tones illuminating Prenger. This effect, coupled with her amazing energy, really helps to draw in the audience’s focus.
Overall, Shirley Valentine is a fun piece of theatre. Though the storyline may be fairly predictable, it is well-written. Admittedly it was penned in the 1980s for an audience that may have found Shirley’s journey from domesticity to independence refreshing. The execution is spot on, leading to an enjoyable show that will have you laughing until the curtains close.