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Theatre review: Shirley Valentine

Pauline Daniels flies solo at the Royal Court in the original director's cut. But is it any good?

Published on November 10th 2010.

Theatre review: Shirley Valentine

MY mum went to see Shirley Valentine on its first flight 20 years ago. She was a certain age, a Shirley age, and she understood Shirley Valentine-things, like how to do a good egg and chips, if not how to run away to a Greek island.

I mention this only because what she got on that night was not as advertised. There was no kitchen-enslaved scousewife coming out onto the Liverpool Everyman stage purely to natter, woman to women. Instead, somewhat nervously, into the spotlight stepped a man.

Noreen Kershaw, the star, had, like Shirley, gone awol for the moment, yet the show had to go on. Step up Willy Russell, not just any man but, of course, the play's author, clutching his own text, and killing them softly with his song, ie the whole play, in a rare piece of accidental theatre history.

“Aren't men full of shit?” observes his character, Shirley, at one point. Maybe, but that night, and as far as the wowed audience went, Russell was excluded from that particular universal truth.

Fast forward two decades and to Liverpool comic Pauline Daniels who has taken ownership of Shirley Valentine, complete with log book, and has made it her her own, talking to the bloody wall as only she can.

It is a role she loves, swimming confidently in Shirley's ample folds. Interestingly, then, the latest incarnation sees Daniels as the third person in the resurrected theatre marriage between Russell and the play's original commissioning director, ex-Everyman supremo Glen Walford.

Walford is back in town to take on a 21st century Shirley at the Royal Court, kicking off the Festival of Comedy. And, on press night, the only thing the men are full of is “it” - enthusiasm that is - as they dot themselves among a largely female packed house that is delighted to sit before the dishwashing diva in all her put-upon glory.

Daniels, as married and forgotten Shirley Bradshaw, embarks on a solo flight through a series of well-loved lines, the audience sometimes whispering them before her like prompts, so familiar is this tale of a runaway housewife's epiphany on a Mediterranean holiday.

Her comic timing, honed in variety down the years, is, as ever, spot on, and yet perhaps that's a very slight problem. Up in the gods for the first half, the cheap seats are rattling with guffaws, even in one or two of the more profound moments, as Daniels cracks eggs as defly as jokes, lifts chips over boiling oil, and coolly paints flesh and blood portraits of her life: nativity plays, her lack of education, her nagging husband, Joe, the selfish kids who've flown the nest. Oh, and there's

By Angie Sammons

a long lecture about the clitoris which induces hysteria. “The Clitoris Monologues”, you might say.

And for all to clearly envisage is Marjorie Major, the perfect schoolfriend who frumpy Shirley meets in the street years later, and who shocks her to the core, not by the revelation that she is enjoying a career as a hooker, but with the opener: “Didn't you used to be Shirley Valentine?”

Daniels delivers this highly demanding performance, and its narrative-shaping anecdotes, with all the polish and credibility an onlooker could ask for; so much so that you can't imagine anyone else, female or male, “used to be Shirley Valentine”.

It is a timeless tale, for who hasn't buggered off on foreign holiday and found themselves living the life they want to lead instead of the life they actually do lead? Who hasn't wondered, like Shirley, even momentarily in a changing cubicle, “when did I stop being me?” Oh, and who said you had to be in mid life to have those crises? These themes have a Universal rating.

There are very few obvious concessions to the passage of time in the text, either. If Joe wants her back, he still has to send her a letter, there are no emails or mobile phones.

It usually works, but with one annoying exception: When Shirley, in a poignant moment, revels in the luxury of the unworn silken robe that has been surreptitiously given to her by next-door neighbour Gillian, she is not only thrilled but reveals how it has the tag from the shop. “The Bon Marche”, she declares proudly. Unfortunately, the Primark generation in the audience, unaware that this is a reference to a one-time, high class Bold Street store, howls, wrongly, with laughter at Shirley's perceived inelegance.

It crops up in a conversation afterwards with Russell and the T-shirt-clad Walford. “We are changing that to Liberty from now on,” says he.

Liberty. How fitting for a woman of any age.


*Shirley Valentine, Royal Court, Roe Street, Liverpool, runs until May 9. visit: here to book

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bozzaApril 29th 2009.

Better than sheakspeare or any of that rubbish, its no good saying long words are signs of cleverness, more like just being a clever dick. This play shows that noremal people dont need long words to be funny. Liverpool has too long been held back by evil Tories and wicked Capitalists. Bring back Militant and give this fantastic play the social significance it so richly deserved.Paulin daniels is even funnier than her brother Paul daniels and doesnt need his tricks to make you wet yourself with real laughter.A gem, a treat, a true artiste with enormous talent and still so young and beautiful

woodyApril 29th 2009.

Dont go and see this awful performance - it is reminiscent of a 6th form production yet without any of the naive charm that might entail.As always, Daniels gives her cardboard scouser act which might entertain tourists and OAP's but is completely cringeworthy to local people.The play is very dated and doesnt ring true in a world where AIDS and Chlamydia threaten casually promiscuous holidaymakers.The laughter rings hollow (when it doesnt sound uncomfortable) and it is really time to deconstruct this play.Paul O'Grady would be a better option - not as Lily Savage but as a gay man in a similar situation.Lets rewrite the part, call it Stevie Valentine and make it interesting, modern and relevant.

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