Paul Johnson | 23 Sep 2011 10:41am
Willy Russell is one of Britain’s most successful contemporary dramatists and a playwright whose work can frequently be linked with Liverpool. Among his strengths is a keen observation of working class values, particularly those of women – some commentators suggest these were gleaned from his time as a ladies hairdresser. Whatever the influence his observations are seen to advantage in “Blood Brothers” “Educating Rita” and “Shirley Valentine.
“Shirley Valentine” is the latest production from Lighted Fools, the award winning Surrey based Theatre Company that has worked in Cranleigh, Guildford and Walton. I saw this production at the Riverside Barn Arts centre in Walton, as part of the Festival of Theatre and which attracted capacity audiences all week.
The play originally appeared in 1986, it subsequently became an international film success and has been seen as a theatrical production on countless occasions. Its form is a monologue addressed directly to the audience and so an inherent danger might be that, as an audience, ‘we’ve heard it all before’ – this was not to be my experience. One advantage of a (two act) monologue is the time it allows the personality of the player to inhabit the character. Given this opportunity for development, well-honed lines can emerge as fresh and insightful. Director Richard Parish took full advantage of actor Karen Sahlsberg’s natural warmth and rapport. We find her as Shirley standing by the sink as she prepares her husband’s evening meal, sharing with us confidences about Jane, a neighbour, who discovered her husband in bed with the milkman. At this point Sahlsberg’s delivery had freshness and cheeky originality. Later this contrasted well with her despair at the hum-drum resonance of her life, “I should be on a missing persons’ list!” – this drew a gasp from several around me and added poignancy to the emotional bankruptcy of her situation. It additionally brought understanding of her need to escape to Greece or anywhere. Director Richard Parish ensured a movement plot that unobtrusively offered differing levels of interest as Shirley set about kitchen chores. Karen Sahlsberg, with direct eye contact, a shy smile and an effective Liverpuddlian accent, made ‘friends’ with her audience. The sustained applause at the end indicated to me the audience had empathy with Shirley’s situation and her solution.
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- : 08/07/2009