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Shirley Valentine

Published by: Kirstie Niland on 14th Sep 2017 | View all blogs by Kirstie Niland

The Grand Theatre Blackpool, until Saturday 16th September 2017

"I used to be the Mother. I used to be the Wife. But now I'm Shirley Valentine again".

As Jodie Prenger delivers that well-known line you could be forgiven for thinking she really is in Greece, sitting by the sea wearing a sunhat, shades and a happy glow.

For the talented TV and West End star is so believable as the disenchanted, Liverpudlian housewife who flies off to Mykonos that the audience is behind her all the way - rejoicing as she discovers the life she never had and thought she’d wasted.

 

We’re not the only ones. Her previously snooty neighbour is so in awe of her courage she gives Shirley a glamorous silk kimono to take with her, and her swotty old school adversary, Marjorie Majors – now a high-class hooker - reveals she was actually jealous of Shirley at school.

So she always was "Shirley the Brave", she just doesn't realise it – until she finds herself skinny-dipping with Greek taverna owner Costas when he takes her out on his boat and several voyages of discovery.

Many will be more familiar with the film version of Shirley Valentine starring Pauline Collins and a host of other household names, including Julia McKenzie (Gillian), Joanna Lumley (Marjorie), Tom Conti (Costas), Alison Steadman (Jane, the friend who abandons her on holiday) and Bernard Hill as husband Joe.

But this is Willy Russell’s original one-woman play, so it's Jodie’s job to bring the characters in Shirley’s story to life. She does it so well I could picture Julia McKenzie telling her she’s marvellous and Tom Conti declaring her stretch marks lovely, marks of life…before she tells us, the audience, who have become her friends and confidantes by now: “Aren’t men full of shit!”

Educated at Elmslie School and Blackpool and the Fylde College, Jodie has gone a long way before returning to her roots at the Grand Theatre. After winning the role of Nancy in BBC1’s I’ll Do Anything, she’s played a wide range of high-profile roles and has recently finished a stint as Les Misérables' Madame Thénardier in Dubai. TV credits include Waterloo Road and a slot on ITV’s This Morning, and she’s even worked as an agony aunt.

Her bubbly nature and ability to engage and connect with the audience when she breaks the fourth wall, combined with an impressive talent for accents, keeps our attention and ensures the comedy drama pushes all the right buttons during the highs and lows.

You could have heard a pin drop when she explains as Shirley: “I have allowed myself to lead this little life, when inside me there was so much more. And it's all gone unused. And now it never will be. Why do we get all this life if we don't ever use it? Why do we get all these feelings and dreams and hopes if we don't ever use them?”

 

We will her not to back out of the holiday when her horrified grown-up daughter Milandra stomps out, calling the idea of two middle-aged women going off to Greece “obscene".

Then there’s comic relief and we laugh uproariously when Shirley shouts out of the window at her departing daughter: That's right, Milandra, I'm off to Greece for the sex. Sex for breakfast, sex for lunch, sex for tea and sex for supper. A neighbour shouts back: “Sounds like a marvellous diet, love!” and Shirley responds: "It is! Have you never heard of it? It's called the F plan!"

The stage set follows Shirley’s transformation, beginning with the kitchen she has spent her life in, forced to talk to the wall, then changing to a bright Greek beach where a rock becomes her companion instead.

Shirley Valentine premiered at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre in 1986 before becoming a hit movie in 1989. Willy Russell’s witty and moving mix of gentle humour and realism is totally in tune with the mindset of a married woman who feels taken for granted; and Jodie Prenger, under the expert direction of Glen Walford and with input from Willy Russell himself, steps deftly into the role and performs it perfectly.

The costume change and shift in Jodie’s demeanour show Shirley blossom and feel beautiful, reflective of the girl she once was and the more content woman she has become. When Joe comes to get her - regretting his neglect and the chips and egg he pushed onto her lap because there was no steak for the dinner he expected like clockwork - he doesn't recognise her.

Then he sees his young love Shirley Valentine, who has decided that she's alright, and that instead of saying: "Christ, I’m forty-two", from now on she’s going to say: ’Shirley, you’re only forty-two, isn’t that marvellous".

Shirley Valentine IS marvellous and so is Jodie Prenger. I hope between them they prompt a recognition that sometimes it's okay to live the life we want, not the one we have to - along with a surge in holidays bookings to Greece!

Book tickets here

Tour details here

Photographs by Manuel Harlan

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