Review | Shirley Valentine at The Barn, Milton: 'Deftly manoeuvres from the humorous to the poignant'

THE Portsmouth Players are back with a superb new production, kicking off their new season with Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine.

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 1:42 pm
Sheila Elsdon as Shirley Valentine by The Portsmouth Players at The Barn, September 2021
Sheila Elsdon as Shirley Valentine by The Portsmouth Players at The Barn, September 2021

In this 1986 play, a middle-aged Liverpudlian housewife unburdens herself to her kitchen wall as she cooks a chip’n’egg tea for her emotionally distant husband – the type of man who expects his tea on the table at the same time each day.

Shirley Bradshaw – once upon a time, adventurous, thrill-seeking Shirley Valentine – wonders what has happened to her life, talking sex, marriage, and family as she fries potatoes and lays the table.

In the first act, she moves from washing machine to stove, past the ironing board, Weetabix packet, and Liverpool FC scarf: a repetitive life of domestic chores and emotional frustration.

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But secretly, she dreams of honeysuckle, sun, olives, wine, and a table by the sea – and a surprise offer of a transformative Greek holiday could make that fantasy a reality.

She couldn’t possibly leave her husband to fend for himself – to do his own washing and cooking for 14 days – could she?

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Running entirely as a one-woman monologue, the play follows Shirley - who fears becoming ‘lost in unused life’ - in her search for the strength to chase happiness, swapping her green tabard apron for a bright sundress.

With only a literal brick wall to interact with, a production of Shirley Valentine hangs entirely on the performance of Shirley herself, and The Portsmouth Players’ Sheila Elsdon is wonderful in the role.

Engaging and expressive, the actor makes magnificent use of Russell’s insightful and moving material.

Her comic timing is used to great effect, particularly as Shirley Valentine relies so heavily on the lead actor’s ability to deftly manoeuvre from the humorous to the poignant.

There’s still time to see this excellent show as Shirley Valentine runs until September 19.

The Portsmouth Players’ autumn/winter season productions will be held at The Barn, Milton.

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