Duke of York’s Theatre, London, until June 3
I’ve reasonably fond, if distant, memories of the late 1980s film version of Shirley Valentine and even the play that preceded it, but I’d never normally have dreamed of sitting through either again. The story of a bored Liverpudlian housewife finding love on a holiday to Greece now feels very dated.
This doesn’t seem to have occurred to Willy Russell, Matthew Dunster or Sheridan Smith, respectively the writer, director and star of this predictably tedious stage revival.
Poor old Smith, playing the title and only role, has such a cod Liverpudlian
accent that she gets an unsolicited laugh the moment she opens her mouth. She goes on to talk about things that anyone much under 50 would have little or no knowledge of – the dashing suitor in the old Milk Tray adverts, Trevor McDonald reading the news and a television series called Dynasty – and it all seems now not just tired and unfunny, but also patronising, if not actually offensive.
Russell’s portrait of a dimwitted northern housewife – she doesn’t know how to say taramasalata and thinks it’s very exotic that people could ever consider eating squid – seems even more sneery when it’s played not by an authentic Liverpudlian, but an actress from Epworth in Lincolnshire.
The play requires us to cheer Shirley on when she finally finds the willpower to get out of her kitchen and boring marriage and head off to sunnier climes, but the only wonder now is why it took her so long.
Paul Wills’ design is, however, impressive, though why he should have wanted to have done up Valentine’s kitchen in the first act in salmon pink and cucumber green – matching what she’s wearing – I have absolutely no idea, unless it’s some sort of in-joke about the colours of the Garrick club just around the corner from the theatre.
What makes me saddest of all about a show like this is that when theatre needs to appeal more than ever to young audiences, it’s still hung up about baby boomers – and I doubt even many of us would want to voluntarily sit through all this again.