Review: Shirley Valentine

Go see this for the simple reason that Jodie Prenger is outstanding in this one-woman-show...

A quick review this one, as I’m desperate to let you know about this fantastic play (do we call it a ‘social comedy’?) and also quick because it’s late and I’ve litearally just got back from opening night at the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells (the play runs Tue 4 Jul to Sat 8 Jul). So should you see it before it moves away next week? In a nutshell – yes – for the simple reason that Jodie Prenger is outstanding in this one-woman-show and because it’s a timely reminder that you get one life. Do. Not. Waste. It.

I’m going to be honest now (I get very direct when I’m tired) I wasn’t sure I was going to like this play as much as I did. I’d just turned 15 years old when the original film came out and I can distinctly remember a sense of total disinterest when I realised (after about the first 5 minutes) that this was a story about a middle-aged woman moaning on about her mundane existence.
Oh how things have changed. Now that *cough* a considerabe amount of years have passed I’m actually the same age as the central character… 42! Or the ‘grab a granny’ age as she describes it! *Breathes deeply into brown paper bag*… And so that makes it a whole lot more relatable this time around – and yet at the same time, because the play remains set in 1989 it’s hard to see myself as the same age as Shirley who, as a bored house-wife on the brink, talks to the wall and hankers for a life away from the yellow pine fitted kitchen that has become her personal prison. So she flies off to Greece to find life and meets a man called Costas in his taverna.

Unlike Shirley I was able to go to University and follow my chosen career, I can go on holiday with girl friends if I so wish and because I didn’t have children until my thirties they have not yet left home (not even close…) Even better I am not expected to have the tea waiting on the table for Mr Muddy when he gets home *snorts Café Latte across the room at the very thought* – in fact he’s the better cook in our house.
I can’t relate at all to the bored house-wife element because as a working mum I can’t remember the last opportunity I had to feel bored. So to some degree the show is testament to how far women have come over the last three decades. Yet there is still so much here that is relatable, so much that stands the test of time. Some things still remain constant – like that fact that your 40s are a time of shift – the mid-life crisis is still very real and hits us all in different ways. The feeling sometimes that you need to reconnect with who you really are – and occasionally break free of the routine and unrelating hamster wheel of life. Sound naff? Oh but it isn’t. Because Jodie Prenger (remember the BBC TV’s I’d Do Anything winner?), the only character on stage throughout the whole performance, delivers it all with such pathos and authenticity.

She’s great at the physical comedy and at delivering the sharp script – it’s a Willy Russell comedy – he’s also best known for Educating Rita and Blood Brothers. But what stands out most is her exceptional engagement with the audience – she appears to make direct eye contact with each and everyone person, which was some feat. There’s some satisfying 1980s references too like The Milk Tray Man, Paul Daniels and ambitions of being an air hostess on Concord.

This is one for the grown ups (fairly adult themes and language) and definitely one to watch with your girlfriends (very few men in the audience) and if you want a little reminder of why it’s important not to let life pass you by it’s a beautifully performed piece of theatre.

assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk

1 comment on “Review: Shirley Valentine”

  • Chris July 4, 2017

    Ha ha! I was 42 when the film came out so had to see the Jodie Prenger version and thought it was fantastic. How does she do it? Fabulous show. Thank goodness times have changed although don’t rembered being “under the thumb” or dictated to – lucky me!

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