Duke of York’s Theatre, London – 3 June 2023
From the audience at the Duke of York’s Theatre, it’s clear that Shirley Valentine is a much loved story and after seeing Sheridan Smith’s performance, I think it’s only going to receive further love and praise. The one woman show follows disillusioned mother and wife Shirley as she reminisces on her “unused life” and wonders how she can really find herself and her happiness again. The show is a glorious manifesto on being a woman and is so incredibly moving in all the best ways. It celebrates the small things and highlights hardships so many people go through in such a seamless and engaging way. You truly couldn’t ask for more.
Smith has had many star turns in her career and is a hugely celebrated actress for good reason and this production completely hammers that home. She is completely born for this role, giving into it and making the audience feel like she’s truly lived the life she talks about; and also making the audience feel like they’ve lived it with her. There’s no way to not sound overly gushy, because Smith is just that good; her performance is an absolute dream and truly couldn’t be better.
Watching this show, it’s quite amazing to realise that, without being condescending, it was written by a man. Willy Russell has completely nailed the female spirit and the entire script feels incredibly natural. For a show written over 30 years ago, it remains as fresh and sadly relevant as ever.
Paul Wills’ set is completely fitting for the story and allows the story to shine, almost becoming a character of its own, especially given the personification of the kitchen wall. The simplistic staging works perfectly as does the gorgeous lighting design from Lucy Carter. Understated lighting changes parallel the emotions Shirley is feeling and work well to really emphasise the most emotive moments.
What’s so wonderful about this show, and I’m sure why it resonates with so many, is that it’s all about a normal person. There’s no larger than life drama or swooping romantic relationships, instead there’s a genuine character discussing real life issues. In a way it’s sad that so many can relate to Shirley’s feelings but hopefully this show will help people realise that they are not alone and that your life, however small it may feel, is a glorious, stage worthy one too!
Under Matthew Dunster‘s excellent direction, with Sheridan Smith at her absolute best, this is perhaps one of the most grounded and well performed productions in the West End and I just wish everyone could see it. Stunning, stunning work.
Photo Credit: John Wilson
Reviewed on Saturday 25th February 2023 by Olivia Mitchell