THEATRE REVIEW: Shirley Valentine starring Sheridan Smith at the Duke Of York’s Theatre

By Neil Durham

WORTH A LOOK?: *****

WHEN?: 17 February, runs through 3 June 2023 RUNTIME: 120 minutes (including a 20-minute interval)

The moment we know we’re in the presence of comedy genius is when something unexpected happens – a sink in the kitchen set overflows and threatens to drench the front row tonight – and Smith acknowledges it, laughs with it yet never breaks character.

  • Read on for reasons including why this is the funniest comedy now running in the West End

Shirley Valentine walked back on its debut in 1986 so Fleabag (Wyndhams Theatre) and Mamma Mia could fly.

Author Willy Russell wrote this play over 35 years ago and its star Pauline Collins was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the film.

It was the successor to other female empowerment pieces he penned such as Educating Rita and musical Blood Brothers and North Lincolnshire born Smith is cast perfectly as 42-year-old working class Liverpudlian mother Shirley who has raised her children, talks to her kitchen wall and finds her relationship with her husband is as tired as the chips and egg he insists she makes for him.

Smith (Funny Girl, Savoy) returns to the stage for the 1st time since Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the Palladium and this beloved one-woman monologue about someone who finds love on holiday abroad is the perfect choice.

We write on Facebook that we’re going to see this 1st preview and a friend responds quoting well-loved lines:

Shirley: ‘I’m going to Greece for the sex; sex for breakfast, sex for dinner, sex for tea and sex for supper!’

Van driver: ‘Sounds like a fantastic diet love!’

Shirley: ‘It is, have you never heard of it? It’s called the ‘F’ plan!’

Thanks to the clever way it is delivered it is the best received gag in the show winning not 1 but 2 rounds of applause in the telling.

It’s not just that but there is so much that is laugh-out-loud funny in Russell’s script that we’d forgotten after seeing the film. ‘Marriage is like the Middle East. There’s no solution. Most of the time you just keep your head down, observe the curfew and hope the ceasefire holds.’

Or on sex again: ‘It’s just a lot of pushing and shoving and you still come out with very little at the end.’

Greece is the word for Shirley who spends the 1st act in a pink and green outfit that matches the kitchen decor she is preparing tea for her husband in as we join her for a few glasses of wine and find she’s so entertaining that 2 hours in her company alone simply flies by.

Will grease (Greece) be only what she cooks her husband’s chips and egg in by the show’s close?

The 2nd half set change is simple, beautiful yet effective and director Matthew Dunster (2.22 A Ghost Story) has pulled off a similar trick here of creating a believable domestic location that allows its protagonist to tell a down-to-earth story that feels real.

The dated references to ‘the Milk Tray man’ and R2-D2 remain but if anything they serve to remind how groundbreaking Russell was to make an ordinary middle-aged woman the heart and soul of a piece that was likely to ring true with so many middle-aged people that it only goes to prove how ahead of his time he was because there’s still a dearth of that sort of material – even years later in 2023.

Put simply, The Unfriend (Criterion Theatre) was the West End’s funniest show but Sheridan’s Shirley Valentine beats it and wins a deserved standing ovation tonight not least for Sheridan’s cool when something didn’t quite go as planned.

Get ready to fall in love with Shirley Valentine – for the second time.

  • Main picture via Facebook courtesy National Theatre Tickets
  • Have you seen a Sheridan Smith show before and what did you think of this 1?Let us know what you thought in the comments below
  • Enjoyed this review? Follow monstagigz on Twitter @NeilDurham, email and check us out on Instagram and Facebook

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