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Theatre / Shirley Valentine

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Shirley Valentine is a play by Willy Russell, first performed in 1986. It tells the story of a middle-aged working-class housewife who rediscovers the joy of living on a holiday in Greece.

The play has only one visible character, Shirley Bradshaw, and takes the form of two monologues: one in Shirley's kitchen on the eve of her departure, in which she describes her life and explains how she got the opportunity to go to Greece and why she decided to take it; and the second on a beach in Greece, in which she describes the outcome of her holiday.

Noreen Kershaw played Shirley in the original Liverpool production, but the role is most associated with Pauline Collins, who starred in the 1988 West End and 1989 Broadway productions, and also in the 1989 film adaptation. The film, directed by Lewis Gilbert and with a screenplay also by Willy Russell, opens out the action and shows many of the events only described in the stage version.

The play provides examples of:

  • Be My Valentine: "Valentine" is Shirley's maiden name, and represents a version of herself who remembers how to live life.
  • Cheating with the Milkman: Played with. This is how Jane's marriage broke up — only it wasn't Jane cheating with the milkman.
  • Companion Cube: Shirley talks to her kitchen wall about her troubles because it's always there for her and nobody else in her life is interested. In the second act, a rock on the beach serves a similar confidant role.
  • Funny Foreigner: Costas, the Greek tavern owner, who may or may not be playing it up for the benefit of the tourists.
  • The Ghost: Everybody except Shirley.
  • Sex Tourism: Shirley's daughter assumes this is what she's going to Greece for.
  • Take That!: Shirley's son is a self-styled poet whose work seems to be mostly about taking shots at the literary establishment: "I hate the fuckin' daffodils,/I hate the blue remembered hills."

The film provides examples of:

  • Astonishingly Appropriate Interruption: After impulsively extending her stay in Greece, Shirley walks on tavern owner Costas trying to seduce another female tourist with the same lines he used on Shirley earlier.
    Costas: You afraid that I will make fuck to you. But I only ask you to come on boat. Different thing. Boat is boat. Fuck is... [sees Shirley] ...fuck.
  • Background Music: Lampshaded. At one point, while Shirley is being seduced on a boat with nobody but the two of them for miles, she gets distracted wondering where the romantic music is coming from.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Mallondra, Shirley's daughter, who comes home out of nowhere and immediately has her mother running around after her.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Shirley frequently addresses the audience directly, commenting on the action (and sometimes on the presentation.
    • A moment later, Costas breaks it too, when they're lying naked on the deck having just had sex.
      Shirley: [lying there with her eyes closed; Costas moves down out of frame, and Shirley opens her eyes, startled] Oh! [sits up, turns to camera] He kissed me stretchmarks! [Costas sits up and glances at the camera as well] You kissed my stretchmarks!
      Costas: Don't be too stupid to try to hide these lines. They are lovely, because they are part of you, and you are lovely. Don't hide. Be proud. Show. These marks show that, eh, that you are alive. That you survive. Don't try to hide these lines. They are the marks of life. [He leans over to kiss them again]
      Shirley: [to the camera, smiling] Aren't men full of shit?
  • Extreme Doormat: At the beginning of the movie, Shirley just tends to go along with other people and rarely asserts herself beyond sarcastic quips, her only act of defiance being feeding Jillian's dog meat. She grows out of this as the film goes on, to the point of refusing to be browbeaten in returning home, either by Jane or Joe.
  • Fake Nationality: Greek tavern owner Costas is played by Italian-Scottish actor Tom Conti.
  • Former Teen Rebel: Shirley used to be a good student, but the apathy and nastiness of her teachers made her stop caring about school and she became this instead.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Marjorie reveals she is one when she happens to bump into Shirley and they catch up in her hotel room. The maid is so shocked she pours tea all over the sandwiches.
  • Hypocrite: Jane is appalled when Shirley seems to be having relations with Costas, even though she went off with a stranger she met on the plane for a weekend of wild sex. Shirley calls her out on it.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Joe thinks Shirley's going mental when he comes home and catches her talking to the wall. Later, when Shirley refuses to come back from Greece, we see Joe doing exactly the same thing.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: Janet is so freaked out when Shirley tells her that calamari is squid that she faints.
  • Left the Background Music On: Shirley and Costas' sex scene, which features a dramatic and uplifting orchestral piece.
    Shirley: Oh my God! Where did that orchestra come from?!
  • Loveable Sex Maniac: Costas seems to be in the habit of seducing middle-aged women on their holidays, but when Shirley catches him in the act (using the same lines on another women he used on her, no less), she doesn't begrudge him at all and they stay good friends after that regardless, with Costas even giving Shirley a job in his bar.
  • Lower-Class Lout: Janet and Dougie, plus their friends, are incredibly small-minded and rude, particularly towards the waiters. Shirley, by contrast, is always nice to them and in response they like her so much they're happy to give her a job when she decides to stay.
  • Men Can't Keep House: Joe is so incapable of doing any domestic tasks that Shirley freezes all his meals for two weeks and says her mother's going to come around and heat them up for him, plus he doesn't seem to know the difference between the oven and the washing machine. He also throws a tantrum when he gets eggs and chips for dinner instead of cooking something else himself.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: When Shirley's teacher bluntly tells her that she probably won't get far in life, Shirley responds by insulting her and then storming out of school for good, ripping up her exam paper as she goes.
  • Skinny Dipping: Costas and Shirley. It's a part of his seduction technique.
  • Tender Tears: While sitting at the seaside by Costas's bar, Shirley reflects on what a small life she's lead and cries over how much of it is already gone. Fortunately, Costas helps restore her joy of living again and she realises that she has a lot of it still left.
  • Visual Innuendo: After Shirley decides to let Costas seduce her on the boat, the subsequent event is represented by waves crashing on the shore and a ship's mast rocking back and forth.

Other productions provide examples of:

  • Race Lift: The 2010 West End revival starred British Asian actress Meera Syal.