Shirley Valentine is a one-woman show that tells the endearing story of Shirley, a middle aged housewife in Liverpool. Shirley recounts tales of her youth, when she was ‘Brave Shirley,’ and contrasts that with stories about her now loveless marriage, where she finds more comfort in talking to the walls. The play begins after her friend, Jane, has given her tickets to go to Greece, and follows Shirley’s decision and attempts to justify a vacation. Shirley is witty and self aware, using dark humour to cope with her unfortunate situation. She explains her husband’s complacency by saying that he would not notice her disappearance as long as he continued to have meals put in front of him. She justifies her interest of going to Greece by saying that she’s just one of those silly women having a mid-life crisis. Her dark humour allows the audience to empathize with Shirley’s story while still making them laugh.
Shirley Valentine is a Laurence Oliver award winning show written by Willy Russell. It is also a book written by the same author. The Arts Project’s production of Shirley Valentine, features Valerie Grunté and the direction of Vicki Nicholls. FP Theatre supports the London Abused Women’s Centre Shine the Light on Women’s Abuse Campaign in which a portion of the proceeds from their November 1st production will be donated.
The play takes its shape through the use of storytelling; jumping between time frames and characters within stories ensures that one character can entertain the audience for the full two-hour show. The temporal quality of the play is essential to the audience’s understanding of Shirley. She creates a divide between herself and a past self that goes by her maiden name, Shirley Valentine. This divide between her present and past self also creates a self-imposed divide between herself and the young people of the world, described through her children. She tells the wall, and the fourth wall, about the restrictions placed around her by a society that did not believe in her. Valerie Grunté’s storytelling ability keeps the audience entertained and laughing for hours. By the end, the audience is rooting for Shirley to pursue her dreams, as she is such a likeable character.
The strength of the production lies in the acting; Shirley’s words and stories help the audience fill in the blank to create a vision of the places she’s describing. The minimalist set also does not change often; it only transforms once between acts. The sets themselves, however, are sparse and awkward. Although Shirley’s words never faltered in telling her story, the props and set around her seemed to make her stumble. Her kitchen was both cluttered in the places that she inhabited and empty in the places that she did not. The sparse set of Greece did not paint the picture for the audience, but rather reminded viewers of the intimate setting of the stage. Despite this awkwardness in moving around the set, Shirley actually cooks a meal, egg and chips, throughout the first scene of the first act. This makes the set feel much more real.
Since Shirley has been heralded as a strong female character--and that she is--her rags on feminism were disappointing. Shirley unabashedly tells the audience about her friend Jane, the feminist, who hates men and never takes ‘no’ for answer. As she tells the audience--with a hint of disgust--she is not a feminist, even though Jane is the encouraging voice for Shirley’s rebellious adventures. This is at no fault to the actors or production, as Shirley tells the joke with comedic brilliance, however it creates a divide between her and other women that reinforces the 1980s setting. Although Shirley is a strong character, she is presented as such in a way that devalues other women.
A window into another time, Shirley Valentine is a delightful two hours of monologue that takes the audience on a journey through Shirley’s second coming-of-age. Shirley’s strong character brought to life by Valerie Grunté’s ability for storytelling captivated the audience and moved the story forward. Shirley Valentine runs at the Arts Project until November 4th, and is a must-see heart warming tale.