This Shirley Valentine is an average regurgitation of a lovely play. Jodie Prenger is a charismatic personality and has a strong stage presence and good comedic timing. Unfortunately, in this case, she does not plumb the depths of Shirley Valentine.
I used to be The Wife. I used to be the Mother. But now I’m Shirley Valentine again.
Shirley Valentine is one of many stories by Willy Russell, known for his insightful writing, that focuses on the lives of women. Educating Rita is another and his musical, Blood Brothers ran on the West End for 24 years. Shirley Valentine featured Pauline Collins in the film version of 1989 after a West End stage debut in 1988. It has been produced many times on stage since. This production is currently touring the U.K. and now playing at The New Victoria Theatre in Woking.
The story of Shirley Valentine is about the second coming of age of a forty something wife whose children are adults and have left home. The intimate relationship of husband and wife has long since been eroded. Shirley is trapped in a life in which she has no sense of identity. As she acknowledges what her life has become, she rails against its constrictions and sets about rediscovering herself. Without knowing it, Shirley has joined a legion of women, like affected by Runaway Wives Syndrome, who leave their marriages in an effort to find a more satisfactory life.
Jodie Prenger is currently Shirley. Prenger has had a lot of experience on stage and television since winning the role of Nancy in Cameron McIntosh’s revival of Oliver! through the BBC’s competition I’d Do Anything. Prenger has a charismatic personality a strong stage presence, and good comedic timing.
The role of Shirley Valentine requires more from a performer than this.
Shirley Valentine is another in the genre of monologue plays. It is demanding of any performer that they be versatile and hold the audience’s attention, in the case of this play, for 2 hours. To portray the soul of a character without any supporting actors is a difficult task; it means that relationships are established second hand through related interchanges. This requires an actor to commit to the character and their feelings and to be able to show those feelings to the audience.
Where Prenger excels is in acting the supporting roles. Shirley’s husband and friends come alive when she speaks for them and the laughs from the audience are huge.
It’s when Prenger ‘acts’ as Shirley that the audience cannot believe that her Shirley is pushed to the limit; pushed far enough to secretly arrange her holiday and far enough to turn back at the airport departure gate, to stay in Greece.
The design by Amy Yardley is of two halves. The first act has a detailed naturalistic set of Shirley’s kitchen complete with a working hotplate to cook eggs. The kitchen is set in front of four industrial looking pylons. In the second act there is an almost cartoon like appearance to the Greek landscape with plastic rocks and water in front of a garish blue painted backdrop. The reasoning behind the two diverse styles is hard to fathom. It could be trying to emphasise the fantasy element of the Greek act but that’s a bit of a long reach.
The Greek set does however provide a beautiful visual moment in the final scene of the play with the help of the lighting design by James Whiteside; the bright blue turns into a beautiful sunset.
Sound in this space is an issue. There was so much reverb on the amplified voice of Prenger that, with her strange accents in play, there were many words lost in translation. Speaking of the accents, the scouse accent of Shirley was inconsistent; the Greek accent of Costas, on the other hand, was fabulous.
The surprise is that director Glen Walford, a veteran of the plays of Willy Russell having directed the original Shirley Valentine, with this production has given nothing new. It’s an average regurgitation of a lovely play.