In a world full of multi-million pound all-singing all-dancing, technically amazing productions we are here at the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells to see just one actor, with only two different sets, perform a two hour monologue. It all sounds very understated but, when the writer is Willy Russell, the actor is the simply incredible Jodie Prenger and the show is Shirley Valentine, what follows is a theatrical tour de force.
Made famous by the 1986 play and film starring Pauline Collins, Shirley Valentine tells the tale of a woman whose life is passing her by. Now that her children have flown the nest, and her marriage to Joe is as stale as last month’s bread, Shirley decides to accept an invitation to head off to Greece with her friend Jane to find, sun, sea, adventure – but mostly, to find the woman she used to be.
Act one takes place in the kichen where, as well as telling us tales of her humdrum life, Shirley also prepares (and cooks live on stage) chips and egg for Joe, while talking to the wall. Act two takes the action on to a Greek beach, where Shirley is finding herself – and a nice rock that she can chat to as well.
Jodie Prenger’s preformance is, quite simply, breathtaking. From the moment the lights go up and she starts to tell us how Shirley has discovered wine, right through to the finale where Shirley sits by the sea on a Greek beach, waiting for Joe to arrive, her delivery is faultless.
Her Liverpool accent is crystal clear, as is her Manchester accent, her posh accent and her Greek accent, which she uses to help us identify some of the many characters that are mentioned, but never actually appear, in the show. Watching Mrs Shirley Bradshaw rediscover Ms Shirley Valentine is a revelation, with some wonderfully comic lines set against some incredibly poignant and heartfelt moments.
Jodie’s performance as Shirley Valentine is a monologue masterclass which leaves many in the audience looking on in admiration, examining their own lives and wondering how soon they can jump on a plane to rediscover themselves – and find a rock of their own.
***** Five Stars