Sheila brings Shirley Valentine to the stage for Portsmouth Players

When Sheila Elsdon takes to the stage as Shirley Valentine it will be like revisiting an old familiar friend.

Monday, 6th September 2021, 4:40 pm
Sheila Elsdon is Shirley Valentine in The Portsmouth Players' production
Sheila Elsdon is Shirley Valentine in The Portsmouth Players' production

The actress is playing the title role of Willy Russell’s one-woman drama in this Portsmouth Players production 24 first years after she first tackled the part.

Pauline Collins became synonymous with the role when she took her 1988 Olivier Award-winning West End turn on to the silver screen, also winning a Bafta in the process.

But Sheila hadn't seen the film when she first read the play – nor did she know the original was a one-person show.

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‘Back in 1997 I was asked to do it by HumDrum, a very good local group, and that's when I found out it was a monologue. At that stage I hadn't seen the film either. I read the play and absolutely fell in love with it. Willy Russell is an amazing playwright, and then I thought, I'm just going to watch the film out of interest.

‘The film was obviously very good, but to me, having read the play I just felt it was much more intimate, because it is just one woman talking, and providing you do it right,’ she laughs, ‘you hopefully draw people in.

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‘I’ve seen the film now, but I do prefer the play to the film. I'm not detracting from the performances in the film, but I think when you bring in other characters it loses a little bit of the intimacy.

‘I'm glad I hadn't seen the film when I read it because reading the play for the first time, it was all very new and exciting.’

While Sheila has played Shirley in 1997, ’98 and the early 2000s, she suspects this will be the last time she portrays the frustrated housewife seeking an escape from her stagnant life.

‘It’s nearly 20 years since I did it last. This, I'm sure will be the last time I get the offer to play her. I don't think Shirley Valentine on her Zimmer frame is a good look, personally!’

HumDrum’s original director James George is credited, but James Christopher has also contributed.

‘I hope it's my own interpretation – mine and the director's, obviously. Because I've done it so often now, i feel I've inhabited the part.

‘We're crediting James George who did the original direction.

‘When you've done it so many times, it's in your psyche, so I'm doing a lot of the things that I did in the original production, but the direction for this one is Jason Christopher.

‘I've asked him to put fresh eyes onto it, if you like. Although I know it myself, inside out and backwards, you can't see yourself, and you need someone to say: “Hang on a minute, that doesn't look right”, or “You're rushing that”, or whatever.

‘You need an objective eye and Jason is a Portsmouth Player who has done direction for us and other companies. He's also magnificently building the set as well!’

Coming back to the play for the first time in a while, Sheila dug out an old VHS recording of her first run in the role.

‘It was mainly because I wanted to look at some of the moves and see if I could change them – it's very grainy, very crackly – but I am very proud of it.

‘I think though, that I can do Shirley more justice now. I perhaps deliver some of the lines better than I did before, and I saw some things in the script that I hadn't before – there's definitely a few different interpretations coming out.

‘I'm also older and you gain from experience​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​.’

Sheila is also keen to dispel the notion that this is just a play for women: ‘I think what's wonderful about the play is that there's a Shirley in everybody – it doesn't just relate to women, it's for men as well, and I found that out the very first time I did it.

‘I think men can feel just as trapped as Shirley does.’

Shirley Valentine

The Barn, Milton

September 14-19

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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