Shirley Valentine – 2023

Written on May 15th, 2023

Mid-life Crisis? Go to Greece!

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Shirley is trapped in a midlife crisis. Her husband Joe is predictable and stubborn. “Marriage is like the Middle East,” she says, “There’s no solution. You keep your head down and hope the cease-fire holds.”  The Liverpool housewife is so lonely she talks to the wall, and with the wall as her confidant, no subject is off limits. Yes, there are some racy bits.

British playwright Willy Russell has crafted a deliciously funny everywoman story with Shirley Valentine, now on stage at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope. Any mother who has experienced the empty nest syndrome will identify with Shirley. The monologue in this one-woman show flows smoothly, her thoughts moving from one hilarious story to the next.

But then there are the poignant moments. Shirley is longing for her carefree youth, when she was single, when she was still Shirley Valentine – her maiden name. As the story progresses, we see Shirley grow and regain the confidence she once had. She learns that she is finally able to look after herself, after a lifetime of putting others – her husband, daughter and son – first.

This show is a challenge for actors, as is any one-person play. Deborah Drakeford capably handles the role, carefully maintaining the Liverpool accent, and carrying on her conversations with the wall and rock. She takes our emotions on a ride: we feel her emptiness one minute and we are laughing with her the next minute.

Drakeford also handles the various accents while relating conversations she’s had. When talking for her husband Joe, neighbour Jillian, old friend Marjorie, mate Jane, and love interest Kosta, the voices, intonations and accents, all change. Comedy is created in her earnest presentation of each character.

As well as memorizing the entire script, Drakeford has to keep busy on stage to avoid lulls in the story. She cooks an entire dinner of “chips and egg” for her husband, from peeling the potatoes to serving it up. Later we learn that his disgust at being served chips and egg on steak night is just the prompt Shirley needs for heading off without him on Greek holiday.

My only concern with this production might be the set. Shirley’s kitchen is too perfect, and the open-air walls make it too, well, airy. Where is the wall she is talking to?  Other productions I’ve seen have given us a cluttered, old, crowded kitchen, where the wall she talks to seems to be closing in on her. Nevertheless, the message came through, and it was interesting to see the changes to the set at intermission as it became a beautiful Greek taverna on the beach.

The colourful language and adult content make it perfect for a girls’ night out (and for “girls” read “adult women”). But if opening night was any indication, men in the audience will enjoy it, too. It amazes me that male playwright Willy Russell has so aptly captured the female mid-life crisis. 

A long-time favourite in theatre, Shirley Valentine has been around since 1986, yet the story holds true in 2023. The ending is mystery – where will Shirley end up?  We can all make our guesses, and imagine a life for her.

Shirley Valentine continues at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope until May 28, 2023. Tickets are available at the box office by calling 905-885-1071 or visiting https://capitoltheatre.com/

Photo: Deborah Drakeford as Shirley Valentine. Photo by Sam Moffatt.

Shirley Valentine
By Willy Russell
Directed by Karen Ancheta
Performed by Deborah Drakeford
Capitol Theatre, Port Hope
May 12 to 28, 2023
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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