‘Shirley Valentine’ was commanding.
For many people life tends to chug along at a steady pace; all the while, daydreaming of better things one could be doing; of the adventures, tales, and friendships that could be made. Daydreaming makes people feel better. This is the core theme explored in ‘Shirley Valentine’, presented by Sunnybank Theatre Group.
An iconic one-woman piece, the plot is all about Shirley, an ordinary housewife from Liverpool. Stuck in a mundane rut and looking for a change, when her friend offers her a chance to go to Greece, Shirley bites the bullet and leaves everything boring behind. But once she’s there, she takes time to realise what’s really important to her. The show is a bold choice, but one that the team at Sunnybank has tackled wonderfully.
Lesley Davis as Shirley dominated the stage. Being the only actor on stage for two hours is no easy feat, but Davis was a force who fleshed out a brilliant, multi-layered role.
From the opening scene, the audience was engaged by her presence. Falling into hysterics from the third line, Davis brought realism to the role, with facial expressions and comedic timing that drove the audience to adore her. But she also allowed them to empathise with the character’s ongoing issues. Her loneliness, her children moving out of home, and her bleak relationship with Joe; it was in these moments that Davis’ Shirley was given depth, and showed the quiet sadness within. The strongest moment of her dialogue was when she made the realisation, ‘The only person I hated was myself’.
The direction from Dierdre Robinson was noteworthy in that it was kept simple. In the hands of another director, this show could have easily been overdone, overthought. It takes a clever director to understand that for some shows, simplicity is key. The blocking and focus on language were only used where necessary. It allowed the audience to focus on the most important part of the show, Shirley and her stories. This clearly worked as the audience was fully invested in the one character for the entire show.
Ashley Worsman created some gorgeous and clever set-pieces. The yellow kitchen of Act One was like stepping into a time machine. The furnishings and furniture were 60s-esque, and angled to allow the area to appear more enclosed. This worked wonders for the show. The set appeared realistic but enclosed. Which mirrored Shirley’s emotional journey. In Act Two, the set was the opposite. Set in Greece, the stage was open and airy. The use of clay stones and a beautiful blue backdrop gave it life and again reflected Shirley’s emotional state, liberated.
One of the things about this show is that Shirley lives in every neighbourhood, on every street. Shirley is the woman who feels restrained. The woman stuck in a loveless marriage, the woman who needs a friend to talk to, the woman wishing and wanting their dreams to come true. But what this show manages to capture perfectly is that it isn’t achieving dreams that make a person feel good, it’s what one feels about their life and how they use it. While it’s primarily a good laugh and feel-good show, it does explore some deep issues of unhappiness, loneliness and societal pressure.
‘Shirley Valentine’ is an enjoyable production that left the audience in awe. With cheers and whistles of approval filled the crowd once the curtain had closed. Well done to all involved.
‘Shirley Valentine’ performs until Saturday, 7 December 2020. Tickets can be purchased at Sunnybank Theatre Group’s Website.