|Written by||Willy Russell|
|Place premiered||Everyman Theatre|
|Subject||A holiday in Greece refreshes an unhappy middle aged Liverpool housewife in more ways than one|
Shirley Valentine is a one-character play by Willy Russell. Taking the form of a monologue by a middle-aged, working class Liverpool housewife, it focuses on her life before and after a transforming holiday abroad.
Wondering what has happened to her youth and feeling stagnant and in a rut, Shirley feels as if her family treats her more like a servant and she finds herself regularly alone and talking to the wall while preparing an evening meal of 'chips and egg' for her emotionally distant husband. When her best friend wins a competition for two to Greece, she packs her bags, leaves a note on the cupboard door in the kitchen, and heads for a fortnight of rest and relaxation. In Greece, with just a little effort on her part, she rediscovers everything she had been missing about her existence in England. She finds so much happiness, in fact, that when the vacation is over she decides not to return, ditching her friend at the airport and going back to the hotel where she'd been staying to ask for a job and to live a newly self-confident life in which she is at last true to herself.
Commissioned by the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, the play premiered in 1986, with Noreen Kershaw directed by Glen Walford. At one point during the run Kershaw suffered from appendicitis. With no understudy, Russell himself played Shirley for three weeks. Two years later it opened in London's West End at the Vaudeville Theatre, with Pauline Collins directed by Simon Callow. After eight previews, the Broadway production, with Collins again directed by Callow, opened on 16 February 1989 at the Booth Theatre, where it ran for 324 performances. Ellen Burstyn replaced Collins later in the run, and Loretta Swit starred in a US national tour in 1995.
From 26 March - 8 May 2010, as part of the Willy Russell season at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Meera Syal played Shirley in the production's first London West End revival. A West End transfer of the Menier Chocolate Factory production ran at the Trafalgar Studios from 20 July - 30 October 2010. Meera Syal reprised her role as Shirley; this production was adapted and broadcast by BBC Radio Four in 2010 and 2017.
A 30th Anniversary Tour, starring Jodie Prenger ran in the UK from March 2017 to November 2017. Prenger was met with rave reviews.
A new production starring Sheridan Smith, and directed by Matthew Dunster opened at the Duke of York's Theatre, London, in February 2023 and will run until June 2023. Set Design was by Paul Wills, Lighting Design by Lucy Carter, Sound Design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph, Associate Direction by James Robert Moore and Casting by Sarah Bird.
Awards and nominations
- 1988 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy
- 1988 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress
- 1989 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play
- 1989 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
- 1989 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
- 1989 Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut
- 1989 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
- 1989 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play
- 1989 Tony Award for Best Play
- Russell, Willy (1988). Shirley Valentine and One for the Road. Portsmouth, NH: Methuen. ISBN 0-413-18950-3.
- Klein, Alvin (24 April 1994). "THEATER; One Woman's Fling In 'Shirley Valentine'". The New York Times.
- James, Caryn (30 August 1989). "Shirley Valentine (1989) Review/Film; Shirley Valentine Talks With Others". The New York Times.
- "Shirley Valentine". Everyman Theatre.
- "Willy Russell - Shirley Valentine, Saturday Drama - BBC Radio 4". BBC.