'Shirley Valentine' Still a One-Woman Charmer
4 out of 4 stars -- review byAlec Harvey, arts editor, The Birmingham News
Seems like old times.
"Shirley Valentine" has opened at Birmingham Festival Theatre, and it looks much the same as it did when it opened at BFT 10 years ago: same set, same actress and same director.
In many cases, that would result in an old, tired retread that would be better off unearthed. But this visit from an old friend is a welcome one. Willy Russell's one-woman comedy charmed back in 1993, and it does the same in 2003, perhaps even more so.
With apologies to director Michael Flowers, who undoubtedly made numerous contributions to this production, the cog that makes this "Shirley Valentine" turn is the brilliant Dolores Hydock.
For more than a decade now, she has moved audiences in pieces as diverse as Terrence McNally's comedy "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" and Rebecca Gilman's provocative "Spinning into Butter."
But Hydock, a trained storyteller, is at her best alone with an audience, and that's where she finds herself in "Shirley Valentine."
Willy Russell's play is a delightful romp with serious undertones. A lonely British housewife, stuck in a loveless marriage with grown kids who don't appreciate her, is ready for a change.
In the first act, she's speaking to the walls in her flat, contemplating a two-week trek with a friend to Greece. In the second act, she's speaking to a rock on a Grecian seashore, regaling all who can hear with the story of her rebirth on vacation.
Thanks to Hydock, we hang on her every word. The accent, presumably, is right on, the comedy is timed perfectly, and the dramatic moments are heart-rending.
Matthew Mielke's set is a fun and useful one. In her kitchen during the first act, Shirley actually prepares a dinner of chips and eggs for her never-seen husband.
But one knows deep down that Hydock could have created a convincing Shirley Valentine on a bare stage, with no special lighting and, apologies again, no director. She knows how to tell a story, and that's what's important here.