SHIRLEY VALENTINE - Cheltenham Everyman Theatre



Shirley Valentine is speaking to the audience from the depths of her kitchen, where she's chopping potatoes, ready to put an egg-and-chips supper in front of Joe, her husband. (It would have been mince, had she not taken pity on a vegetarian bloodhound.) Although we've only just met Shirley, we already know that Joe isn't an egg and chips sort of man.


The audience - at a rough estimate, 90 percent women-and-counting - is on intimate terms with Shirley, despite such a recent acquaintance. The woman a few seats down from me is actually replying to her, with a lack of self-consciousness that indicates she'd be astonished if you pointed it out. "Oh no!" she says, at one point. "That's right," she agrees, at another.

When Shirley, mid-chip, announces, "I've just cut my hand on the knife," everyone nods. We've all done it while making inadequate egg-and-chip suppers for our demanding husbands.

"No," says Shirley. "I've cut my hand on the knife."

We laugh - one of many bonding laughs.

"No," says Shirley, trying to make us aware that she's now Claire Sweeney. "It's quite bad."

We all screw up our eyes and stare from the back of the stalls/circle, while someone in the front of the stalls gets up and puts a packet of plasters on stage.
Shirley Valentine - though much more Claire Sweeney - is dripping blood in a non-stagey way.

"I once saw a play where the actress, who was wearing a white dress, suffered a severe nose bleed. She carried on," says the person next to me.

"I'm going to have to get this seen to," says definitely Claire Sweeney.

Now I'm not trying to do a Scottish Play-Type-Thing. But, interesting, when Shirley Valentine opened in 1986, the actress - Noreen Kershaw - had to drop out with the sort of burst appendix that no one in the stalls would have tried independently to fix. With no understudy, in sight, there was one option: the man who wrote the play - the fantabulous Willie Russell - went on stage for the last three weeks to read the part from the script each night. The theatre was packed. And the Liverpool Daily Post, while awarding Best Actress to Noreen, endowed Willie with Best Supporting Actress.

If I might introduce a corporate analogy for one moment here: once, Ian was at a work seminar, when the lecturer walked in and dropped to the floor. Everybody waited politely for the reveal; until someone realised he'd just had a heart attack. That's a facet of the days when people tried to make workshops fatally inventive.

Tonight's semi-debacle is a credit to writer Willie Russell, director Ian Talbot, and so, so much to Claire Sweeney. What an absolute trooper. Not only did she leave the stage while vital repairs were carried out; she then came back on and - with barely a misstep - continued her whole performance. And this play asks for some performance. A long monologue, in a Liverpool accent, that needs pinpoint timing; perfect comic intonation; and the sort of rapport with the audience that means you could accidentally sever your hand and no-one would notice.

And wow, this is a fab play. You can read all about how Russell left school at 15 and started life as a hairdresser; you can intuit from that how he got an ear for women's chat; for their lives, their humour and their grievances. You can double that when you realise that the women he grew up around were Liverpudlians.

But you can't square the circle without throwing in Russell's sheer genius. His understanding of character; his sympathy with women who are trapped in a life far smaller than the one they envisaged.

"Clit-oarrr-is," intones Shirley, who was 28 before she even heard the word.

She thought it sounded like a good name.

"Why not. There's plenty of men walking round called Dick."

And balanced against the laughs is the sadness. "I always said I would leave him when the kids were grown up. But once they had grown up, there was nowhere to go."

If Claire Sweeney was busy dealing with untoward emergency in the first half, she did a solid job. But she came into her own in the second. As the Greek sunlight poured onto the stage, so she flowered.

And gave a taste of the run to come.

Go and see Shirley. You might not have quite the drama we did; but, honestly: there's drama enough in the brilliant script.




Being a huge fan of the original 1980’s film, I was more than intrigued to see it recreated as a ‘one-woman’ theatre show on the Everyman stage.

In the first scene, we meet Shirley Valentine, a charming and loveable character who is more than a little discontented with her role as a housewife.

Played by the talented Claire Sweeney, who is the only cast member in the play, Shirley dreams of a life beyond her mundane existence. She wants to ‘sit by the ocean sipping wine in a country where the grape is grown’.

The opportunity to achieve this fantasy arrives when her friend Jane unexpectedly wins a holiday to Greece.

Full of self-doubt and worry about her authoritarian husband’s reaction, Shirley is reluctant to entertain the idea of leaving the family home for two weeks abroad. That is until she has peeled just one too many spuds, been ridiculed by family and friends about her age and realised the girl she once was has gone.

Her desire for happiness is reignited and with her passport, tickets and money she jets off to find adventure.

During her holiday, love seems to be on the cards but will it be with the man of her dreams or herself? - FD



'Hello wall', chimes Shirley Valentine as she enters the stage in Everyman Theatre Company's one-woman production of Willy Russell's classic hit comedy.

It can be no mean feat talking to yourself for two-and-a-half hours but actress Claire Sweeney pulls it off with astonishing ease. She is loveable and funny as she shares with the Playhouse audience Shirley's dissatisfaction with her life.

The predominantly female crowd nod along and chuckle knowingly as middle-aged Shirley prepares a dinner of chips and egg, while openly offloading her frustrations with emotionally-void husband Joe, her empty-nest sorrow and her envy of flamboyant friend Jane, who has invited her on a two-week holiday to Greece.

A 70s kitchen set is cleverly transformed in the second act to a Greek beach and taverna.

We cheer Shirley on as she bravely walks away from her humdrum, working-class existence in Liverpool and embarks on a journey of self-discovery on a Greek island.

Although only one cast member, Claire does an excellent job of impersonating the other characters in the play, thus painting a picture for the audience.

With an awful lot of lines learned, under the expert direction of Ian Talbot, Claire delivers the witty monologue with perfect timing.

This very amusing play is wonderfully entertaining and uplifting.