SHIRLEY VALENTINE. Director: Gina Shmukler. Cast: Natasha Sutherland. Theatre on the Bay.

Astute direction by Gina Shmukler and a committed performance from Natasha Sutherland bring out all the warmth, wit and wisdom of Willy Russell’s delicious one-hander, Shirley Valentine.

A change of life, as opposed to THE change of life, is what lurks at the core of the eponymous protagonist’s experience: forty-five is that age at which a woman embarks on middle-age and begins to circle menopause. For Shirley Valentine, it is not only the physiological signs of ageing that cause disquiet; her marriage has not matured well, her children are grown up and gone, and no one is sensitive to her emotional needs.

Her most responsive confidante is the kitchen wall, and her best friend is a female whose titanic selfishness is as yet unsuspected. In these circumstances, any change could only be an improvement.

But undertaking change requires courage (“better the devil you know…”), so the prospect of an adventure to Greece is fraught with anxiety…until Shirley’s brutish husband goes a step too far, and the trip turns into a journey of self-affirmation.

Shirley Valentine review: ToTB

Revealing innermost thoughts

From her first appearance as a dowdy middle-class housewife performing the ritual of her husband’s predictable supper, to her joyous finale as a sun-bronzed woman confidently celebrating her liberation, Shirley reveals her innermost thoughts to the audience, thereby endearing herself artlessly to the listener. Whether addressing a kitchen wall in Liverpool or a rock on a beach in Greece, her uninhibited monologue is an ongoing delight in its honest spontaneity. This is a most likeable woman.

The role is enchanting, but places enormous strain on its executant, who has to sustain a tricky Liverpudlian accent for well over an hour as well as manage the transformation of Shirley’s character convincingly as she embraces her new persona. Both challenges are handsomely met by Sutherland, who is admirably cast.

Her portrayal is underpinned by lighting and sets which reflect shifts in mood and environment; Shmukler’s staging achieves maximum effect with minimum fuss, and the play’s rich agenda is delivered at a judicious pace.

All of which results in an evening of delectable, heart-warming escapism.

What: Shirley Valentine

Where and when: Theatre on the Bay from 14 February to 15 March 2022

Book: Computicket


This article was originally posted by WeekendSpecial on February 22, 2022, and has been reposted with permission. To read the original article, click here.


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This post was written by Beverley Brommert.

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