THE phrases ‘tour de force’ and ‘timeless classic’ are often overused but never more apt to describe Shirley Valentine, currently at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking.
Most people will be familiar with the 1989 film starring Pauline Collins. In that version, Shirley’s husband Joe is brought to life by Bernard Hill, her snobby neighbour Gillian by Julia McKenzie, and the dashing Greek lothario Costas by Tom Conti.
In the play, in which Collins made award-winning performances, Shirley is on her own throughout – with her only companions the famous ‘wall’ and later the ‘rock’.
One-person plays are notoriously difficult to stage and run the risk of seeming static and monotone. No such danger here. Willy Russell’s 31-year-old script has lost none of its bite and wit.
Admittedly, this is helped by some usefully timeless references – the Middle East, sadly, remains without a solution and fad diets are still around.
But the core of this stunningly good play is the deep truth at the heart of a stale marriage and mother and wife taken for granted by all around her. It is not just about Shirley’s predicament, but of others too – letting life pass them by.
The play opens, as does the film, with Shirley in her kitchen, cooking Joe’s tea. While the setting is purposefully claustrophobic, the action moves around the kitchen – and beyond – with Shirley at times dashing about, giving impressions of the various characters in her life.
If Pauline Collins made the role her own in the 1980s, Jodie Prenger is the perfect modern incarnation. Witty, highly intelligent, strong and self-aware, her Shirley oozes reality and sparky determination.
This most life-affirming tale hits the spot yet again with the audience recruited as Shirley’s biggest fans.
Prenger is mesmerising in her delivery and movement around the stage – sometimes it is hard to believe that there is only one person performing.