Willy Russell’s one-woman monologue from Liverpool housewife Shirley Valentine might have been penned back in the 1980s, but its timeless humour still sets an Edinburgh audience rolling in the aisles 30 years on.
Shirley is 42. With the kids grown and flown and marriage to Joe gone stale, her life is reduced to putting the right meal for the right day on the table at the right time. Her only diversion during this daily drudgery is to talk to the wall. Literally.
When next-door neighbour Jane presents her with a ticket to join her on a fortnight’s holiday to Greece, her first thought is that she couldn’t possibly… or could she? After being covered in egg and chips, courtesy of Joe who’s self-righteously incensed cos it was supposed to be steak-and-chips-night, she decides she bloody well will go after all. The decision definitely changes her life, and probably his, for the better.
The first half of the play takes place in Shirley’s kitchen. The set is deliberately dated but fully-functioning, with all the then-mod-cons. Shirley muses aloud and talks to the wall while making Joe his infamous egg and chips – dishing out the eggs that are actually sizzling in the pan and setting it down on the table at exactly the moment the door bangs, signalling Joe’s back from work.
This means that Jodie Prenger (who shot to fame playing Nancy in ‘Oliver’ after winning the BBC’s ‘I’ll Do Anything’) has to wrestle with the Scouse accent, as well as manage the enormous pressure of single-handedly keeping the audience amused for an hour and forty minutes, and cook at the same time. Good job women are good at multi-tasking! Prenger just about carries off the accent, but her cooking and comedy are both timed to perfection. The second half, where she gets to breeze around a slightly less-convincing Greek beach, must feel like a real holiday.
Some of the comedy has dated a little - there’s probably no-one under 40 who remembers the F-Plan diet – and those not brought up on Merseyside may not get why the references to Childwall and Fazakerley are funny, but in a Scouse accent ‘Fazakerley’ sounds funny anyway. Russell’s ability to write brilliant characters for women has long been noted, however, it’s the warmth of the wit and the humour that undoubtedly endures.
As with ‘Educating Rita’, it’s the pathos that’s buried in the humour that really connects the audience to the character. Shirley, like Rita, recognises that life has led her down a particular road until she’s found herself somewhere she doesn’t want to be. The sucker-punch is their realisation that you can change your own direction, get out and live before you die, instead of dying long before you’re dead. Now who’s going to argue with that?
Runs 30th May – 3rd June,