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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, 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.
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  • 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.
  • 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 — at one point, while 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).
    • 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?
  • 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.
  • 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?!
  • Skinny Dipping: Costas and Shirley. It's a part of his seduction technique.
  • 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.

Example of: