Shirley Valentine review: One-woman tour de force could be the best yet at Kenilworth's Talisman Theatre

Julie-Ann Rendell as Shirley Valentine
Julie-Ann Rendell as Shirley Valentine

Charles Essex reviews Shirley Valentine at the Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth

This production of Shirley Valentine by Willy Russell was The Talisman’s best production to date. Performed as a one-woman play it worked far better than having actors performing smaller parts flitting in and out of the story as it kept the focus on Shirley’s story. This was down to Julie-Ann Rendell’s magnificent performance as Shirley and her voicing those other characters.

Julie-Ann maintained a Merseyside accent throughout, with wonderful portrayals of family and friends. Dave Crossfield’s intelligent directing saw Shirley in her dining-kitchen for the first act, frying real egg and chips, as she talked to her only friend, the kitchen wall, which cleverly mirrored her talking to the fourth wall – the audience.

Shirley initially drew the audience in with witty clever humour which could have been spoken by a stand-up comedienne. As the first act progressed however she became increasingly honest about her sadness and regrets and feeling increasingly stifled, ignored and taken for granted.

The set for the second act was a simple table and chair and sea backdrop as Shirley had taken the plunge and flown to Greece. Her description of her sexual awakening with a holiday romance echoed the awakening of Shirley the person. Julie-Ann’s rendering of the character was full of pathos yet resilience and it is a tribute to her acting and the direction that she took the audience with her on this journey of discovery of who she really was. We accompanied her into the unknown as she faced up to her fears – fear of the future and fear of finding out whether she really mattered.

Although the eponymous lead character is a woman, this is a story of so many people’s lives, of hopes, regrets and fears, and is just as poignant now as it was in its premier in 1987.

* Shirley Valentine runs until Saturday October 12. Visit talismantheatre.co.uk to book.