Jodie Prenger stops off at The King’s Theatre in Edinburgh this week to bring to life one of Willy Russell’s most famous creations – Shirley Valentine. Since its first production in 1986 and the much loved 1989 film, Shirley Valentine has been striking a chord with audiences and women of a certain age for over 30 years, and if the reactions from the audience tonight were anything to go by, this production shows no signs of changing that.
For many theatre goers, and film lovers, Pauline Collins will always be Shirley Valentine, but Jodie Prenger is more than stamping her own identity on this classic role in this new production.
For anyone more familiar with the film than the original stage production, the most immediate difference you will find is that the play is a monologue by Shirley to her kitchen wall and her audience of her faded hopes and dreams and loss of the identity of the person she once was in a lifestyle and marriage of boredom and routine that is coming into even sharper focus now that her two children have grown up and left home, leaving only Shirley and her husband and her kitchen wall. An unexpected purchase of an extra ticket by a friend to accompany her to Greece for two weeks sets Shirley on the first steps to the path of rediscovering who she lost all those years ago and her own sense of self identity and worth.
For Jodie Prenger, this is “no hiding” theatre. Jodie is out there on stage and on her own…there is no one else here to rescue her if something goes wrong in this performance, or even if everything is right, but the audience are just not responding that well. Fortunately, no problems on either issue here as the audience took immediately to this interpretation of Shirley Valentine, the bored Liverpool housewife, and so many women around me throughout this show spent the evening just either laughing out loudly at Shirley’s comments, or sympathising with her on them (or both). This story really is a woman’s story and a girls’ night out show…any men in the audience know they are the object of Shirley’s dissatisfaction immediately.
Jodie Prenger is a very good Shirley Valentine, but for me there was at the start this feeling of being at a one woman stand up comedy show and it was not until we moved deeper into the emotions of Shirley and her personal life from schooldays through the always wonderful observational and insightful writing of Willy Russell that I started to understand a bit more about our Shirley and warm to her as a person. Jodie Prenger is a better dramatic actress than a comedienne (and I say that without any disrespect). Watching Jodie take Shirley from a pretty one dimensional comedy character at the beginning of the show to the far more insightful later first act and opening second act (in Greece) was interesting to watch.
This show seems to be famous for its smell of eggs and chips wafting through the theatre (you have to go to see what I mean), and I suspect that there may be more than one man getting this dinner served to him soon. The audience tonight was full of many potential Shirley Valentines judging from their empathy with the character. I suspect some may have been booking that getaway holiday to Greece on their mobile phones before they left the theatre or dropping into the travel agents over the next day or two.
As always though, I still find it strange that this classic female character with her astute observations on her life that are so loved by so many women was actually written by a man. Part of me always wonders if written by a woman how different Shirley Valentine might have been and how different some of those observations would have been.
Review by Tom King