Shirley Valentine at the Duke of York’s Theatre
Shirley Valentine comes to the West End with Sheridan Smith as its highly anticipated star. Written by Willy Russell and directed by Matthew Dunster, the production has already been extended due to high demand. Many will be familiar with the 1989 movie adaptation starring Pauline Collins, but the story was born as a play. The stage version strips it to its core, with just the protagonist’s monologue driving the plot. In spite of the simple set design and solo performance, it’s a surprisingly engaging show. This is mainly due to Sheridan Smith’s ability to make her character fun, genuine and easy to sympathise with.
The play tells the story of a Liverpudlian working-class housewife who reflects on her uneventful life and lost potential when she is presented with the opportunity to travel to Greece for a fortnight. In the absence of a listening ear, she is in the habit of addressing the kitchen wall, sharing her disappointments and her fears through sad memories and amusing anecdotes. As she goes through her daily routine of preparing dinner for her husband (already dreading his disappointment when he finds out it’s only egg and chips) she realises that life is slipping through her fingers, and that after years of performing her roles of housewife and mother, she has lost her true identity. In her handbag there’s an airline ticket gifted to her by a friend, which represents a unique opportunity to escape the monotony, but she dismisses the trip as a fanciful dream. Nevertheless, the idea leads her to reassesses her life, and Shirley Valentine gradually reawakens.
Smith commands the stage with great skill and never loses a beat as her character moves between jokes and touching reflections. Although it’s far from being a masterpiece, Shirley Valentine is a lighthearted, feel-good play that borders on stand-up comedy, so it never really dips in terms of energy, making it almost impossible to dislike.
Photo: John Wilson
Shirley Valentine is at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 17th February until 3rd June 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.