By Jean Hill
SOME years ago I met the writer Willy Russell at a party at Adrian Henri’s home. He spoke of being a hair-dresser: he talked of doing dangerous work on building sites to earn enough money to go to university, and he spoke of his abiding ambition to be a writer.
Shirley Valentine has a more important purpose, than just to celebrate a man’s ability to get inside a woman’s skin. It is a deeply political play because it questions the notion that people should know their place, and be defined by the constraints of time, place, and space.
Jodie Prenger is Shirley Valentine, and since Willy Russell sought to speak through one protagonist, he could not have chosen a more powerful and poignant voice to portray his heroine. It is a deeply moving play. The demands on the actor, who is performing a monologue, are extreme. It is a portrayal of someone’s life, somehow not fully lived. The writing is enlivened by humour, and explores an economic and sexual revolution that came too late to liberate a generation of women. Jodie Prenger is an accomplished actor and presenter, and she manages to induce laughter, and draws the audience into her character’s life through slap-stick humour and insightful anecdotes. The play challenges compliance with mundane and hum-drum existence. It is a tour de force. The director Glen Walford has engaged with Jodie Prenger to fully flesh out a woman, initially penned in by life and domesticity, who manages to liberate herself by harking back to her rebellious younger self. The initial stage setting is beautifully realised: a woman anchored and hemmed in by kitchen appliances, speaking to the wall.
This play engages the audience by the sheer strength of the writing and the acting. It is a great production, it packs a punch, and it is great theatre.
Shirley Valentine is at The Floral Pavilion until 23 September
Tel: 0151 666 0000