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30th Anniversary Revival Of Willy Russell Comedy
There's no doubt that Jodie Prenger's charisma and personality can carry a show but this revival of Shirley Valentine puts her abilities to the test as it is a one-woman show, written as a fast-paced monologue.
Shirley Valentine is back on tour for its 30th anniversary
Prenger is no stranger to Birmingham of late. She was in Birmingham Hippodrome's Dick Whittington panto at Christmas as Fairy Bow Bells and Calamity Jane at the New Alexandra Theatre in 2015; both of which rely on her charm.
Now she returns to New Alexandra Theatre as the lead in this new UK tour of Shirley Valentine to coincide with the play's 30th anniversary. It continues in the Midlands in July when the tour returns to play at Malvern Theatres.
The Willy Russell tale centres around a journey for Liverpool housewife Shirley in more ways than one. Feeling disillusioned and bored with life after her children have flown the nest, Shirley takes up her best friend's offer of a trip to Greece for two weeks where she starts to find herself.
The play's writer Willy Russell had said that when producer Adam Spiegel introduced him to Prenger he knew in an instant that here was a formidable actress, "one who possessed the grit and the warmth, the drive and the vulnerability, the energy and the heart to make Shirley Valentine really live again".
High praise indeed for the Blackpool lass who found fame as the winner of BBC reality show I'd Do Anything but does she live up to Russell's expectations?
Jodie Prenger gives a sensational performance as Shirley Valentine
Doing an expert Liverpudlian accent, Prenger builds up a rapport with the audience immediately. She makes the most of the excellent script and portrays Shirley with a vivacious vibrancy. She may be a disillusioned housewife but through her stories, you realise she's funny, sincere and misunderstood.
Prenger easily holds court for the whole of the two hour show when she is the only person on stage, but the way she recounts her adventures, it feels as though there's a whole cast of people alongside her.
Writer Russell has a knack of understanding and portraying women well and no more so than in Shirley Valentine. It's a heart-warming, sentimental comedy that may have premiered three decades ago in 1986 but is still just as relevant today.
It benefits from being preserved in its 1980's setting rather than updated to current times. The old fashioned kitchen, British Airways ticket, retro Fairy Liquid bottle and even chip pan fryer that Prenger cooks chips in during the show(which smell amazing) add a wonderful sense of nostalgia.
Willy Russell's excellent script makes Shirley Valentine a joy to watch
But in terms of history, this play is in safe hands with director Glen Walford. She goes way back with Willy Russell, first meeting him in 1983 when she became director of Liverpool Everyman Theatre and directed the original Shirley Valentine.
Although the play was later adapted into the successful Oscar-nominated film starring Pauline Collins and Tom Conti, this original version is much more fresh and human with the closeness and intensity of the actor on stage.
Shirley Valentine has clearly stood the test of time and is still as funny and sincere as when it first appeared. A show hasn't made me laugh as much as this in years and part of that has to be due to the sensational Jodie Prenger. It's a joy to watch and simply unmissable.