Wednesday 1 March 2023

Shirley Valentine - Review

Duke of York's Theatre, London


Written by Willy Russell
Directed by Matthew Dunster

Sheridan Smith

There’s a fusion of genius at the Duke of York’s Theatre where Willy Russell’s wit meets Sheridan Smith’s knockout performance as Shirley Valentine.

This two-hour one-hander, magnificently created on the West End, Broadway and on screen by Pauline Collins is now truly handed on to the next generation in Smith’s interpretation.

Her Shirley is landlocked to a life of chips and egg and a neighbour who if you’ve been to paradise, has got a season ticket there. A  happy turn of fate however sees Shirley go on to discover her emotional emancipation on a Greek island, with Smith delivering one of the greatest performances to be found in London right now.

Only last week this website championed Russell’s brilliance in the touring production of Blood Brothers. Lest there be any doubt, Shirley Valentine, a study of a Merseyside mum escaping mid-life mediocrity, is up there in the pantheon of great British writing. Russell sees the essence of everywoman in his script, captured without pretension or pomposity. His is wry perceptive observation that sparkles with humour. Yet scratch the surface of the play's countless written gems and you'll find an equally dark pool of pathos.

Sheridan Smith reclaims her title as one of the most talented performers of her age. Matthew Dunster has coaxed her performance into a perfectly timed comedy, punctured with points of poignancy and all with barely a pause for breath. Smith holds the audience in the palm of her hand throughout.

Paul Wills designs ingeniously capture Liverpool’s suburbia that after the interval, merge into an Ionian idyl. Equally Lucy Carter’s enchanting lighting, particularly in the second act, serves well to create the Mediterranean magic of Shirley’s journey of self-discovery. 

Don’t miss it!

Runs until 3rd June
Photo credit: John Wilson

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