★★★★ | Shirley Valentine – National Tour

Shirley Bradshaw is a bored housewife from Liverpool, who has brought up her children, is trapped in a loveless marriage; and who spends her days talking to the kitchen wall and dreaming about Shirley Valentine, the girl she used to be before she was married. So when her best friend offers her the chance to head to Greece for a holiday, Shirley reluctantly takes it, and over the course of her holiday, she rediscovers her zest for life, falls in love with the idea of living and realises that it’s never too late to be yourself.

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Jodie Prenger, who is perhaps best known for winning the role of Nancy in BBC’s I’d Do Anything, is impressive in this one-woman show, where she delivers the monologue beautifully; injecting life into the script and forming a believable and likeable take on the character. Her delivery is natural and enjoyable and her comic timing is surprisingly good. It is a formidable task to hold the attention of the audience when you are the only person on stage for the best part of two hours, but Prenger manages it with ease and displays the underlying vulnerabilities hidden beneath the bold veneer of the housewife in a performance which makes you feel like you are catching up with an old friend.

That said, even with such a good performance from Prenger, the real star here is Russell’s writing itself. Shirley Valentine is a heart-warming story of self-empowerment and a show which remains as beautifully crafted, witty, funny and well observed as it ever was. Throughout this monologue, what Russell creates is an instantly familiar character that you simply can’t help but warm to immediately, as her straightforward look on life is presented via a series of genuine laugh out loud moments which seamlessly flow into moments of calm reflection and sadness as Shirley takes stock of her life.

But the most surprising thing is how a script about a bored middle-aged housewife written in the mid 1980’s can so easily relate to today’s gay community. What Shirley Valentine realises is that there is an abundance of joy in living your life for yourself, not for others; and that that it is never too late to be yourself or to be the person that you want to be – a theme that many gay men and women will undoubtedly recognise.

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Shirley Valentine is an engaging and enjoyable piece of theatre and, despite the shifting political and social landscape in the 30 years since the play was written, its message still resonates today; and you can’t help but leave the theatre with a warm glow.

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Shirley Valentine is currently at Sheffield Theatres (www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk) until 29th April 2017 before continuing on its national tour up until 23rd September 2017. Visit http://shirley-valentine.com/ for full details

About the author: Paul Szabo
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.