Shirley Valentine - Ad Astra

‘Shirley Valentine’ // Ad Astra

‘Shirley Valentine’ was poignant. 

With the original script by playwright Willy Russel, ‘Shirley Valentine’ is best known for the 1989 award winning film, starring the incomparable Pauline Collins in the title role. Following the story of working-class Liverpudlian housewife Shirley, the audience is invited into her inner monologue as she embarks on a journey of discovery to rekindle her childhood dreams and love of life. The story is full of rich humour and heartbreak and explores themes of domesticity and living the life you always wanted to live. 

‘Shirley Valentine’ is the first one-woman show to be performed at Ad Astra, but the theatre’s intimate space lends itself perfectly not just to this type of show, but also invites the audience to become a sounding board to Shirley’s casual contemplation. As the entire show is a monologue, its success relies heavily on the quality of the script, which in this case is a beautiful juxtaposition of humour and heartbreak. As the leading lady herself, Jaqueline Kerr handled both themes with aplomb.

Front lining a solo show is no mean feat and Kerr should be commended for her engaged and intriguing performance, which rarely wavered from beginning to end. She grounded Shirley’s endearing qualities, drawing the audience into the journey alongside her and willing her on to succeed, and her comic timing kept the wittiness of the script razor-sharp to balance things out. 

The production as a whole nicely captured the mix of comedy and pathos so evident in the script. An example of this is Shirley constantly confiding to the wall in her kitchen as if expecting a reply which is initially humorous until the audience realise that “wall” is the only thing in her life listening to her.

Director Louella Baldwin made the most of the small space and chose two static sets: the first was Shirley’s kitchen in London where she stays for the majority of the play, the other as the Grecian getaway. The Greece stage was cleverly illuminated whenever Shirley expressed her longing for escape, which tantalised and teased the audience with what could be. 

The most effective aspect of the set though was the attention to detail in creating the atmosphere of domestic dreariness. Baldwin skilfully enhanced the stagnant domesticity by having Shirley preparing her evening meal in front of the audience, complete with peeling her potatoes. To further the authenticity of the show, perhaps more attention could have been given to mastering Shirley’s Liverpool accent, however, Kerr made a decent attempt.

While the story centres around the contemplation’s of a middle-aged woman, there are aspects of Shirley that are guaranteed to resonate with audiences of all ages. Ad Astra’s ‘Shirley Valentine’ is a wonderful journey of discovery for anyone who’s experienced their life falling into a rut and wants the kick up the backside to seize the day and claim what they actually want out of life.

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