Last updated on February 19th, 2023
Shirley Valentine probably needs no introduction. She’s 37 years old in the making, having begun her life as a play at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool in 1986. She then hit stardom in that film with the enchanting Pauline Collins in 1989. Shirley Valentine’s latest incarnation, though, is with Sheridan Smith who is gloriously funny, delightful and charming in this London production at the Duke of York’s Theatre.
Shirley Valentine is a one-woman play, penned by Willy Russell (who also wrote the marvellous Educating Rita), and it’s directed by Matthew Dunster. Both are holders of three Olivier awards each.
Shirley Valentine lives a humdrum life. Her children have left home. Her husband sounds a bore and she’s desperate for romance and adventure. A glass of white wine is the highlight of her day which she downs whilst cooking her husband’s chips and egg. The kitchen wall is her closest confidante, and she shares intimate, funny and often bittersweet anecdotes with us as she spills her heart out to it.
We learn that Shirley has a friend by the name of Jane who has offered her a ticket to Greece. And so, the fantasy of escape begins. Will she pluck up the courage and swap a life of domestic grind for two weeks in the sun?
Cut to Greece, and Shirley finds herself alone again and talking to her new BFF, a substantial rock on the beach. Jane has dumped her for a man, but she’s “alone but not lonely” and glowing like a lobster. She’s fallen in love with the idea of living again. A happy ending is on its way for Shirley, thank goodness.
Russell really does have a way with words, pushing out some hilarious lines such as “Sex is like Sainsbury’s: lots of pushing and shoving and nothing comes out in the end.” Or, “Marriage is like the Middle East – there’s no solution.” And on it goes, the Duke of York’s auditorium rip-roaring with laughter. I can’t remember the last time I heard an audience have this much fun.
Casting Sheridan Smith as Liverpudlian Shirley Valentine was a stroke of genius. There is a real lightness of touch in Smith’s portrayal. She provides a masterclass in how to pull on the heartstrings of a whole audience with a nuanced, colourful and witty performance. In a nutshell, she’s totally adorable. And she pulls off the Scouse accent to a tee.
This is a Shirley you’ll want as your Valentine as you fall head over heels with her. You will leave the Duke of York’s all the better for having met her.
Shirley Valentine is at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 3 June. Run time: 2 hours including the interval. Buy tickets.