A new revival of Willy Russell’s classic play is coming to our theatre, giving audiences the chance to fall in love with Shirley Valentine all over again.
She’s surely Liverpool’s most famous housewife: Shirley, who got sick of cooking for her husband and talking to the wall, and ran away to Greece, because – as Shirley herself says: “Why do we get all this life if we don’t ever use it?”
Her story began back in 1986. According to Russell himself: “It’s now 30 years since Shirley Valentine first walked onto the page, into my life and the lives of so many others. Shirley cooked her first meal of egg and chips on the stage of the Everyman Theatre Liverpool, before then hoofing it down to London where along with the cooking and talking to the wall she started picking up the string of awards she’d win in the West End and on Broadway.”
Shirley – and Willy Russell’s – winning streak didn’t end there. The 1989 film adaptation, starring Pauline Collins and Tom Conti, won several BAFTA’s, and even scored several Oscar nominations. Since then, Russell says: “Shirley has had an incredibly rich and varied life, appearing in many tongues across the globe in countless productions and being performed by many great actresses. The one thing Shirley Valentine has not done of late is extensively tour the UK. There have been approaches and plans mooted but, somehow, it’s just never quite felt right and so I’ve resisted such efforts – until now!”
Russell is famously protective of his plays – so what was it that made him change his mind? The answer lies with the person who will be taking on the role of Shirley. She’s Jodie Prenger, who first came to public prominence for winning the role of Nancy in the West End production of Oliver! through the BBC television series I’d Do Anything. Most recently she’s toured the UK in the classic musical Tell Me On A Sunday. She’s also played the title role in the national tour of the musical Calamity Jane and has starred in One Man, Two Guvnors both in the West End and on tour.
Russell says of her: “When producer Adam Spiegel introduced me to Jodie Prenger I knew in an instant that here was a formidable actress, one who possessed the grit and the warmth, the drive and the vulnerability, the energy and the heart to make Shirley Valentine really live again. How could any playwright resist that or deny the whole of the UK the chance to see Jodie bring Shirley to life?”
Prenger herself feels strongly about the role: “People think of Shirley Valentine as a play about a holiday romance,” she says. “But it’s actually the story of a woman who was stuck in a rut and who dared to go out to find herself. I relate to that; it is my story. I was on the point of giving up entirely before I’d Do Anything, and I now have a life and a career I never dreamed of. I’ve also had a bellyful of bad romances so I’m a woman who has lived and learned – exactly like Shirley.”
Her commitment has paid off on stage, with the critics heaping praise on her performance. The Stage says: “Prenger’s is a joyously physical performance. Dominating the stage, she seems a force to be reckoned with, yet still manages to project the vulnerability that defines Shirley’s increasingly claustrophobic world.” The Times says that she has “warmth, comic flair and a beguiling twinkle in her eye.”
Shirley Valentine: Tuesday 16 to Saturday 20 May. To book, go to our website.