The role of women is a subject that will always be relevant and Willy Russell’s gentle exploration through the character of Shirley Valentine demonstrates just that. Written in the 1980’s yet being viewed in 2017 you can almost ask the question, have things really changed that much?
Set in her home in Liverpool, we see Shirley Valentine, played by the inspiring Nicky Swift, telling the audience how life with her husband has changed her from someone who was once fearless, jumping from roofs, to now merely a ‘middle aged mother.’ What’s interesting is that through her monologue she readily accepts that her husband has suffered the same fate yet only she is willing to face, and ultimately change, their life’s path. Swift’s skilful acting creates a comical yet endearing character who has the audience, a predominantly middle aged plus female one I might add, laughing and nodding along with her, finding many of her tales highly relatable.
During the first act, Shirley Valentine is cooking her husband’s dinner whilst talking to the audience (and wall). Through Swift’s seamless delivery of the monologue you got a true sense of the monotony of her life; she was able to carry on her household chores almost robotically whilst energetically regaling the audience with witty anecdotes of her daughter or how wrong Fraud’s definition of the female orgasm really was (more nods from the female audience members…). Yet despite the comedy, I genuinely felt for Shirley Valentine and could see the sadness of her situation, a situation that was probably shared in the room by many, so when the second act comes and we find Shirley Valentine on a beach in Greece we are rooting for her and Costas and want her to find happiness.
The set, designed by Amy Yardley, perfectly encapsulated Valentine’s life in Act One; a naturalistic kitchen surrounded by four tall walls symbolising all she has ever known. Act Two then takes us to the beach in Greece, perhaps a little more rustic, but Swift’s use of the stage allows our imaginations to follow her there as she dabs her toes in the sea. We are left guessing what the future holds for Shirley Valentine and her husband but what we do learn is that life is there for the taking and too many of us let it slip by so I, for one, have been inspired by this production because sometimes we need reminding and this was an enjoyable way of being reminded!