Shirley Valentine

Shirley Valentine

Shirley Valentine

By Willy Russell
Directed by David Latham
Performed by Nora McLellan
Grand Theatre, London
March 22 to April 9, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

This Valentine is a Sweetheart

Shirley at age 47 is trapped in a mid-life 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.

British playwright Willy Russell has crafted a deliciously funny everywoman story. Any mom that has experienced the empty nest syndrome will identify with Shirley. The monologue in this one-woman show flows smoothly, her thoughts moving from one funny story to the next.

Nora McLellan is brilliant as Shirley. A veteran of the Shaw Festival with 22 years there, McLellan is also a favourite at Stratford, with memorable performances such as her heart-warming Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret. McLellan handles the challenge of being the only character on stage by filling the space. She is a great storyteller: moving us through the timeline of Shirley’s life seems perfectly natural.

McLellan is amazing in the way she works on the stage, talking to the wall (or the audience), all the while preparing an entire meal: peeling and chopping potatoes, frying eggs, setting the table, and enjoying her wine. (We learn later that her husband’s distaste for chips and egg being served on steak night is the catalyst prompting her to change her life.)

McLellan is also proficient at accents and voices. Shirley’s Liverpuddlian accent never falters throughout the show. When she relates things said by her husband Joe, neighbour Jillian, mate Jane, and love interest Costa, the voice, intonation and accent changes delightfully. Comedy is created in her earnest presentation of each character.

A one-person show takes great energy – the actor has to maintain the audience’s attention for the entire evening. McLellan holds the audience in her hand, getting every laugh from the hilarious lines, while keeping listeners on edge when her voice drops in the sad and emotion-filled moments.

The set is amazingly real. Shirley’s kitchen is complete with running water at the tap, and a working “cooker” where her chips sizzle and steam rises from her eggs. Later, she moves to a beach in Greece, where a rock becomes her confidant replacing her kitchen wall. Here the lighting is incredible – she is bathed in bright sun, and the rippling water is reflected on the rocks.

Director David Latham has made the most of a smart script. He’s created a show for everyone. While the colourful language and adult content make it perfect for a girls’ night out (and for girls read adult women), men in the audience will fully enjoy it.

This show leaves you wondering. You can spend the trip home after the show writing the sequel: What’s the next step for Shirley? How will things unfold? McLellan’s portrayal of Shirley is so endearing, you want everything to work out for the best.

Shirley Valentine continues at the Grand Theatre in London until April 9. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 519-672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593, or visit


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1 thought on “Shirley Valentine”

  1. Mary’s written a wonderful critique of a play that has captured the hearts of many, especially us older women, who want to release the young girl inside. Nora McLellan did just that with exquisite charm! Thanks for the show!!!

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