Pauline Daniels is Shirley Valentine at the Royal Court...
"Pauline Daniels is wonderful as Valentine..."
THE question at the centre of Liverpool playwright Willy Russell’s delightful comedy is one that has surely troubled mothers for the whole of history – who do you become when you cease to be at the centre of your children’s universe?
It is in the middle of pondering this that we find Shirley Bradshaw, nee Valentine, at the start of the play, standing in her no longer crowded kitchen, cooking chips and egg for tea and sharing her troubles with the unresponsive wall.
A potential solution to her identity crisis comes with a friend’s offer of a plane ticket to Greece where, if she is brave enough to go, Shirley hopes to rediscover her younger self.
Pauline Daniels is wonderful as Valentine, in a role she first played six years after its creation but which could have been written especially for her.
Her roots as an accomplished comedienne serve her well in a perfectly-timed monologue, as she draws out all the subtleties of Russell’s carefully penned dialogue, expressing to the audience the things she finds herself unable to say to the people she loves.
We see the complexities of Shirley’s character – the housewife-automaton, the comic storyteller; the deeply-felt regret for the life she should have lived and the strength of character and courage it takes to choose sun over sorrow.
With a range of accents and postures, Daniels embodies the characters that feature in Valentine’s life, transforming from bewildered nativity play innkeeper to selfish daughter, uncomfortable Brits Abroad to passionate Greek lover, all the while rearranging the furniture on the beach or cooking chips and egg live on stage.
She brings to life her ungrateful husband Joe, who “gets jet-lag going to the Isle of Man” and their son Brian, who’s living in a squat in Kirkby though she’d prefer it to be in Childwall.
Apart from a few cultural references, you would not be able to tell that Russell’s play was written nearly 25 years ago.
In some ways its theme is even more relevant today, as mothers are expected to split their time between home and work, with little left to just be themselves.
A back-drop of terraced houses merges into Shirley’s kitchen in a simple but affective set for the first act – a trio of flying ducks attempting a get-away into the clouds from their place on the wall above the door.
In the second, the deep-fat frier and vegetable rack are swapped for a Mediterranean scene, complete with turquoise water and sandy beach.
It is here that she rediscovers herself, in an conclusion that is uplifting without being sugary.
We would all do well to find our inner Valentine.
Laura Davis - The Liverpool Daily Post
PAULINE Collins may have portrayed her on film - but Pauline Daniels remains the definitive Shirley Valentine for many fans of Willy Russell’s finely-tuned suburban comedy.
The comedienne/actress/singer has played his desperate housewife on stage somewhere every year for the past decade.
It’s a track record which means she knows the role inside out. Equally, there’s always a risk familiarity could lead to complacency.
But it’s obvious from the opening minute of this latest production at the Royal Court - helmed by original Shirley Valentine director Glen Walford - that Daniels truly relishes the role of the middle-aged mum on the edge of a mid-life crisis, teetering with potato peeler in hand and with only a kitchen wall to confide in.
Shirley Bradshaw has been a wife, mother and domestic drudge for so long she has forgotten the young, carefree, risk-taking Shirley Valentine who used to love life so much – until best friend Jane invites her on a girls’ only holiday to Greece that is.
That invitation - much debated as the deep fat fryer sizzles away in the corner cooking tea for the never-seen husband, Joe - sets the wheels in motion for a life-changing, life-enhancing experience for the 48-year-old housewife.
Russell (himself among last night’s audience) has always had an intuitive ear for women’s voices, and a keen eye for the comic minutiae of life.
Daniels takes his mammoth monologue and runs with it, from kitchen sink to Greece’s sun-kissed sands.
Her Shirley is, rather like Mary Poppins, “practically perfect in every way”. I say practically because there is an argument to be made for a touch less bravado and a touch more wistfulness, in the first half at least.
But in the end the quibbles are really just that, because at heart this is a performance crafted with great love, warmth, and with masterful comic timing.
Shirley’s diatribe about Milk Tray man and the retelling of son Brian’s disastrous school nativity play generate gales of laughter, while the rather brutal pay off line from the moment Greek taverna owner Costas kisses her stretch marks is delivered beautifully.
Mark Walkers has created the Rolls Royce of kitchen sets while the golden Greek sands turns almost amber as the swimsuit-clad Shirley finally finds the contentment she’s been searching for.
The Liverpool Echo
Five stars from 'What's On Stage'
With a plethora of awards already under its belt, Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine is something of a theatrical institution and yet, with this outing, if possible, Liverpool comedienne Pauline Daniels has taken the Mum who wants away from her hum-drum existence to new heights that others might only dream of.
Not only does Daniels portray Shirley Bradshaw nee Valentine, she moves beneath her skin and inhabits her in way that is uncannily natural and so brings an extra dimension to a character so familiar it might have been easy to have slipped into making her something of a cliché, thanks to the star’s exceptional timing and stage presence.
Glen Walford, the play’s original director, has once again aided brilliantly in bringing further sparkle to the piece, so that all is lain out before the audience in a manner that guarantees the fact that audiences will both laugh and cry, as Russell’s exemplary words tumble forth.
With a set, in the first act, that sees Shirley’s kitchen blend in with the street outside before changing, in the second act into the sun-kissed beaches of Greece, simplicity and understatement are clearly the key and it works magnificently, so that Pauline Daniels is left to do what she does best, entertain.
If you’ve never seen Shirley Valentine before or whether you’re contemplating seeing it for the thousandth time, this outstanding production is one that delivers and can safely ensure that everything its legend says is absolutely true.
Chris High - Whatsonstage.com
Pauline Daniels flies solo at the Royal Court in the original director's cut.
MY mum went to see Shirley Valentine on its first flight 20 years ago. She was a certain age, a Shirley age, and she understood Shirley Valentine-things, like how to do a good egg and chips, if not how to run away to a Greek island.
I mention this only because what she got on that night was not as advertised. There was no kitchen-enslaved scousewife coming out onto the Liverpool Everyman stage purely to natter, woman to women. Instead, somewhat nervously, into the spotlight stepped a man.
Noreen Kershaw, the star, had, like Shirley, gone awol for the moment, yet the show had to go on. Step up Willy Russell, not just any man but, of course, the play's author, clutching his own text, and killing them softly with his song, ie the whole play, in a rare piece of accidental theatre history.
“Aren't men full of shit?” observes his character, Shirley, at one point. Maybe, but that night, and as far as the wowed audience went, Russell was excluded from that particular universal truth.
Fast forward two decades and to Liverpool comic Pauline Daniels who has taken ownership of Shirley Valentine, complete with log book, and has made it her her own, talking to the bloody wall as only she can.
It is a role she loves, swimming confidently in Shirley's ample folds.
Interestingly, then, the latest incarnation sees Daniels as the third person in the resurrected theatre marriage between Russell and the play's original commissioning director, ex-Everyman supremo Glen Walford.
Walford is back in town to take on a 21st century Shirley at the Royal Court, kicking off the Festival of Comedy. And, on press night, the only thing the men are full of is “it” - enthusiasm that is - as they dot themselves among a largely female packed house that is delighted to sit before the dishwashing diva in all her put-upon glory.
Daniels, as married and forgotten Shirley Bradshaw, embarks on a solo flight through a series of well-loved lines, the audience sometimes whispering them before her like prompts, so familiar is this tale of a runaway housewife's epiphany on a Mediterranean holiday.
Her comic timing, honed in variety down the years, is, as ever, spot on, and yet perhaps that's a very slight problem. Up in the gods for the first half, the cheap seats are rattling with guffaws, even in one or two of the more profound moments, as Daniels cracks eggs as defly as jokes, lifts chips over boiling oil, and coolly paints flesh and blood portraits of her life: nativity plays, her lack of education, her nagging husband, Joe, the selfish kids who've flown the nest. Oh, and there's a long lecture about the clitoris which induces hysteria. “The Clitoris Monologues”, you might say.
And for all to clearly envisage is Marjorie Major, the perfect schoolfriend who frumpy Shirley meets in the street years later, and who shocks her to the core, not by the revelation that she is enjoying a career as a hooker, but with the opener: “Didn't you used to be Shirley Valentine?”
Daniels delivers this highly demanding performance, and its narrative-shaping anecdotes, with all the polish and credibility an onlooker could ask for; so much so that you can't imagine anyone else, female or male, “used to be Shirley Valentine”.
It is a timeless tale, for who hasn't buggered off on foreign holiday and found themselves living the life they want to lead instead of the life they actually do lead? Who hasn't wondered, like Shirley, even momentarily in a changing cubicle, “when did I stop being me?” Oh, and who said you had to be in mid life to have those crises? These themes have a Universal rating.
There are very few obvious concessions to the passage of time in the text, either. If Joe wants her back, he still has to send her a letter, there are no emails or mobile phones.
It usually works, but with one annoying exception: When Shirley, in a poignant moment, revels in the luxury of the unworn silken robe that has been surreptitiously given to her by next-door neighbour Gillian, she is not only thrilled but reveals how it has the tag from the shop. “The Bon Marche”, she declares proudly. Unfortunately, the Primark generation in the audience, unaware that this is a reference to a one-time, high class Bold Street store, howls, wrongly, with laughter at Shirley's perceived inelegance.
It crops up in a conversation afterwards with Russell and the T-shirt-clad Walford. “We are changing that to Liberty from now on,” says he.
Liberty. How fitting for a woman of any age.
Angie Sammons - Liverpool Confidential