Pitlochry Festival Theatre - Shirley Valentine.

Shirley Valentine

Shirley Valentine
Reviewer's Rating

Sally Reid dazzles in this superb adaptation of Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine. The play’s tale of a lonely and under-estimated 1980s Liverpudlian housewife rediscovering herself via a Greek holiday is straight-forwardly told, allowing the pin-sharp writing and vibrant performance to take centre stage.

Reid is superb as the eponymous Shirley. She hits the various notes of comedy and pathos unerringly, eliciting roars of laughter and pin-drop silences alike from the audience. Her Liverpudlian accent seems largely faultless, and she slips easily into the voices of the various figures in her life – grumbling husband Joe, snooty neighbour Gillian, smooth Greek taverna owner Costas. She even manages to sneak in a little of her native Scottish brogue via Shirley’s father.

The other characters quoted by Shirley throughout the play are crucial to her conception of herself. Shirley sees herself through their eyes, imagining old school friends lording it over her or feeling the silent judgment of fellow holiday-makers. Reid embodies these other characters just enough to let us understand Shirley’s insecurities, without slipping into impersonation or pastiche. This makes it all the more satisfying to watch Shirley blossom, as she realises that actually some people do see her as someone desirable, to be envied.

Reid’s Shirley visibly changes as the play goes on. When we first meet Shirley Bradshaw, she is stuck in a rut, overwhelmed with all of her unlived potential life and talking bleakly to the wall of her kitchen. Her movements are dull and grooved through much repetition – pouring wine, peeling spuds, frying eggs. The rebellious Shirley Valentine of her youth has been completely effaced by the married reality of Shirley Bradshaw, even her surname dripping with the tedium of railway timetables and geographical models.

Once Shirley has made up her mind to take the trip to Greece, Reid’s physicality changes. Suddenly she is nervous, hesitant, uncertain. She brushes her hands over her hips and belly, worrying she is too large, too old for a Greek beach holiday. This makes her final transformation on Corfu all the more satisfying. We can see Reid stretching out in the bright sun and hot sand, sensually brushing her hair from her face and physically luxuriating in the sense of coming back to herself.

The set design (by Emily James) and lighting design (by Jeanine Byrne) are understated but effective, letting the script and performance shine. Shirley starts off penned up in her little kitchen, memories of joyfully painting it as a newly-wed subsumed under subsequent years of domestic drudgery. As she starts to seriously consider going to Greece, glimpses of mosaic tiles can be seen in the background. Once she reaches Greece, these tiles come into full view, sparkling behind the reborn Shirley like a swimming pool or an ancient floor, lit to suggest glorious sunsets and sparkling seas.

In an era where terms like ‘coercive control’ have firmly entered the popular lexicon, Shirley Valentine retains its edge and relevance. Shirley’s husband might not hit her, but his controlling behaviour has shrunk Shirley’s horizons and filled her with fear. To watch Reid-as-Shirley rediscover herself, to suddenly stretch out and take up the space she deserves is a properly air-punch moment of satisfaction, and a reminder that we haven’t necessarily moved on as far as we think.


Written by Willy Russell

Directed by Elizabeth Newman

Performed by Sally Reid

Runs until Saturday 29 June 2024

Times: 19:30 Tuesday-Saturday, 14:30 Saturdays and Wednesdays

Running time: 2 hours 05 minutes including interval