WILLY Russell’s 1986 play Shirley Valentine, written as a solo performance for one remarkable actress, was fleshed out when it was filmed with Pauline Collins, Tom Conti and Alison Steadman, and it’s the cinema version that is best known.
Now, in a new production by Ian Talbot of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre fame, is on stage in Salisbury with well known television and stage actress Claire Sweeney as the frustrated Liverpudlian housewife who re-discovers herself on a Greek holiday.
She’s simply terrific in this role. A packed house on Thursday had at least half of those in the audience mouthing along with the words – our Shirley has become something of a cult from the film.
Sitting in her kitchen, and later on a sun-soaked, sea-lapped beach, Shirley introduces her audience to her family and friends, with asides to her constant companion, “wall” (later to be replaced by “rock”). There’s daughter Milandra, son Brian, husband Joe, neighbour Gillian and school-enemy Marjorie, each brought to vibrant life in her wry recollections.
Introduced to the wonders of white wine by Milandra, Shirley has nurtured a dream to drink it in a country where the grape is grown, so when her friend Jane invites her to Greece, it’s a chance too good to miss, specially when Joe is more than usually impossible.
Claire Sweeney captures the poignancy, exasperation, resignation and excitement of the character, talking directly to her audience and binding them into her life and her hopes.
The show is in Salisbury until 7th March, and it’s a welcome tonic in this wet and wild 2020 spring.