Shirley Valentine – Gaiety Theatre – Review
by Brian Merriman
Dates: 29th Mar. – 2nd Apr
Writer: Willy Russell
Performed by Norma Sheahan
Director: Michael Scott
Duration: Two hours with an interval
British TV star, Pauline Collins’ name was synonymous with Willy Russell’s tale of the forty-five year old ‘housewife’ who had a little dream. It is a one-woman show that captured a time and place and was eventually converted into a film, directed by Lewis Gilbert (Educating Rita), in 1989. So what can be done to a well-tried and tested piece to ensure it will resonate today? It is always a risk to take on a well known and loved story and refresh it. In this production fresh air is breathed in all the right places!
Norma Sheahan is breathtakingly good as ‘Valentine’. Her ‘Valentine’ is from Cork, and Cork is made an integral part of this powerful performance. Sheahan makes the two hours fly by, with her presence, colour and flair. She is a natural storyteller. She is flawless in her delivery.
The simple set opens in darkness but for the light on the plugged-in deep fat fryer. The set illuminates, (as Sheahan does throughout), into a drab kitchen and a monotonous way of life, embedded in this ‘Shirley’. Rachel Allen is under no threat in the culinary department from her fellow Corkonian’s cooking! It is all brilliantly mastered, as is the business and detail in Michael Scott’s direction. She truly is at home on this set and in her apt costumes.
Russell’s ‘feminism’ underscores the text introduced at first through her friend ‘Jane’. It is not she who breaks free, but this fresh, modern take on ‘Shirley’. ‘If something is impossible, it is the perfect reason to do it’, she says. This production has found the perfect reason.
Russell’s glorious cameos shine in their delivery. ‘So much life is unused’, says ‘Shirley’. It is a message that resonates in a mid-Covid Ireland. Nothing is ‘unused’ in this performance as Sheahan’s ability for an intimate conversation with each audience member, engages, charms and enthrals.
Michael Scott has been fortunate to work with many a great female star in his repertoire to date, from Anna Manahan to Jerry Hall. Norma Sheahan’s place on that distinguished list is well earned and well deserved. Though mainly playing to a female audience, any man who wants to ‘live life to the full’ would do well to make a date with this ‘Shirley’.