THEATRE REVIEW: Shirley Valentine ★★★★
The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Thursday 13th - Saturday 22nd February 2020
From the team that brought Waiting for Godot to the stage in early 2019, The Everyman Theatre Company presents Willy Russell’s (Educating Rita, Blood Brothers, Our Day Out) 1988 one-woman production of Shirley Valentine, with Claire Sweeney in the titular role. For a one woman play, Claire Sweeney is simply captivating in the role of Shirley, a woman who longs for a simple life, but is far from living the dream as she finds herself bogged down by her emotionally deprived husband Joe, and constantly finds herself talking to the kitchen wall, or to a rock whilst on holiday in the second act.
We’re first introduced to Valentine as she returns home with a bag of potatoes, ready to peel and cut into slices, preparing to cook her husband’s usual dinner of Egg and Chips. We instantly connect to Valentine through her emotional state and feel like we can interact and reply to her observations and anecdotes, which in some instances we do without subconsciously realising, and Sweeney holds herself well in these moments, giving full eye contact and warmth, especially at the top of the second act where we audibly agree and compliment on her fashion choice, as Shirley jets abroad to escape the rut of troubles and dreary life she swallows herself in back home.
Dawn Allsopp’s Costume and Set Design feels homely in the first act, whilst in contrast identifies as exotic in the latter, with great detail sprinkled into both locations. The most remarkable moment though happens in the first act, when Sweeney is effortlessly delivering her mammoth non-stop monologue whilst cooking two genuine eggs in a frying pan with ease; the skill in which to conquer this in front of 700 active audience members is quite the impressive feat, though the same cannot be said for the chips, for which we can clearly see more than one tin in the oven. Swenney gives a defining performance with imitation of those close around her, whether it’s her husband Joe, flamboyant best friend Jane, or her grecian holiday romance with tavern owner Carlos Dimitriades; the timing and posture in creating these personas gives the script an energy in which keeps us engaged, and it’s that same spark from Sweeney that allows the standing ovation to feel fully appreciative and rewarding of as she takes her bow.
Overall, Ian Talbot’s adaptation of Willy Ruseel’s classic one-woman production feels fresh, giving Sweeney a performance which’ll have you howling with laughter at the crudest of moments, and feeling elated come the closing moments as she discovers her new acceptance of love and life, with a tender importance and a sense of true meaning behind selfcare and confidence.