Review by John Lombard
Willy Russell's award-winning play flips the faithless wife plot, making the audience enthusiastic for Shirley Valentine (Mandi Lodge) to ditch her husband and find fulfilment in adultery.
The play is a marathon monologue delivered over two acts, a challenge for both writer and performer, but the script is clever and Mandi Lodge invests it with the same boisterous energy she displayed in "Always... Patsy Cline." The vibe is of an intimate kitchen-side natter with a flamboyant and likeable friend.
While Shirley Valentine is the only person on stage, Russell's excellent ear for dialogue coupled with Lodge's convincing mimicry bring other characters vividly to life. The British-born Lodge perfectly articulates the Liverpool setting, and unseen characters such as the confident Jane and Greek Lothario Costas feel perfectly real.
Direction from Denny Lawrence keeps the blocking from getting stale, and the detailed kitchen set is exploited to provide Lodge with a lot of stage business to carry her through the first act.
The play's great strength is how well the characters are drawn, especially the brilliantly realised Shirley Valentine, and the highly specific detail makes the action easy to visualise. At points I was so transported by the descriptions that I saw what was being described as vividly as if it was actually happening on stage.
The feminist angle of the play is also well-realised, with Shirley's husband vile in a perfectly believable way, drawing many murmurs of recognition from the audience. The candid discussion of sex worked particularly well, as well as the brutal but authentic satire of English holidaying abroad.
This Creative Victoria project takes what should be an daunting challenge - keeping the audience's attention for two hours with a single monologue - but does it with perfect grace. A triumph for the performer and a delight for the audience.