REVIEW: Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine at New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham 3*

Jodie Prenger stars as Shirley Valentine by Willy Russell

REVIEW: Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine at New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

I saw Shirley Valentine on stage about fifteen years ago after studying Willy Russell as part of my A Level Literature. So you could say I was really looking forward to see how Jodi Prenger would portray the Liverpool housewife in this, the thirty year anniversary tour. Jodie doesn’t disappoint, says Guy Etchells.

Shirley Valentine starring Jodie Prenger

Shirley Valentine Beach in Mykonos – the idyll that Shirley escapes to

She’s the Blackpool girl we fell in love with on the BBC television series I’d Do Anything and the chemistry she has, with both the character of Shirley Bradshaw and the audience, is hard to deny. She hits the comedy beats effortlessly and genuinely appears to love playing this part. However, for me, I felt there was far too much comedy and every line was delivered in an over-the-top comedic fashion.

The reason millions of women recognised themselves in Shirley Bradshaw, was because of the beautiful, yet dark undertones of the script that reflected what women were really feeling. We don’t feel this in this production. The lines are delivered, but there is limited tenderness especially in the first act. I didn’t feel I was witnessing a downtrodden housewife and subsequently, wasn’t invested in her desire to escape to Greece. I was therefore a little surprised to find that the director was a women (Glen Walford).

In any script or story there has to be light and dark and there are many dark tones in Willy Russell’s  script, peppered with considered and reflective pauses that really pull on the heart strings of the audience. I felt these were absent and the majority of scenes were simply delivered to fast. It’s usually the director who decides how the actor expresses dialogue, so this may not be a reflection of Jodie’s ability to handle sad emotional material.

The director may have wanted a full on girls’ night out comedy.  As far as a girls’ night out part is concerned, it excels.  The laughter from the audience certainly paints a picture. Let me finish by mentioning how on a couple of occasions the audience laughed so much, Jodie, couldn’t control her own laughter. This was fantastic and an unforeseeable variable that added to what was already a really entertaining night of Prosecco, laughter and smiles, which is perhaps the point the director wanted to make.

Shirley  Valentine continues its national tour.  Visit www.atgtickets.com

Jodie Prenger stars as Shirley Valentine by Willy Russell

Jodie Prenger stars as Shirley Valentine by Willy Russell