Jodie Prenger as Shirley in the 2017  anniversary uk tour, directed by Glen WalfordJodie Prenger as Shirley in the 2017  anniversary uk tour, directed by Glen Walford

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2017 photos by Manuel Harlan


Glen Walford is interviewed in The Stage.
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Willy Russell reading Shirley Valentine

The original Everyman Theatre programme cover

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Willy Russell reading Shirley during the original production

Willy Russell reading Shirley during the original production




Jodie Prenger is Shirley Valentine

Jodie Prenger stars in the 30th anniversary UK tour of Willy Russell’s SHIRLEY VALENTINE which opened in March 2017 at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley and runs until the end of September. SHIRLEY VALENTINE is directed by Glen Walford, who directed the very first production in 1986. The production runs from March through to September.

" what is an immaculately brilliant script there's always a call for a distinct female lead who can carry it off.... Jodie Prenger steps onto the stage for this run. And what an exquisite piece of casting that is."




“ Shirley Valentine … is an hour and a half of pure, unadulterated brilliance “


In a world full of multi-million pound all-singing all-dancing, technically amazing productions we are here at the Assembly Hall Theatre in Tunbridge Wells to see just one actor, with only two different sets, perform a two hour monologue. It all sounds very understated but, when the writer is Willy Russell, the actor is the simply incredible Jodie Prenger and the show is Shirley Valentine, what follows is a theatrical tour de force.

Made famous by the 1986 play and film starring Pauline Collins, Shirley Valentine tells the tale of a woman whose life is passing her by. Now that her children have flown the nest, and her marriage to Joe is as stale as last month’s bread, Shirley decides to accept an invitation to head off to Greece with her friend Jane to find, sun, sea, adventure – but mostly, to find the woman she used to be.

Act one takes place in the kichen where, as well as telling us tales of her humdrum life, Shirley also prepares (and cooks live on stage) chips and egg for Joe, while talking to the wall. Act two takes the action on to a Greek beach, where Shirley is finding herself – and a nice rock that she can chat to as well.

Jodie Prenger’s preformance is, quite simply, breathtaking. From the moment the lights go up and she starts to tell us how Shirley has discovered wine, right through to the finale where Shirley sits by the sea on a Greek beach, waiting for Joe to arrive, her delivery is faultless.

Her Liverpool accent is crystal clear, as is her Manchester accent, her posh accent and her Greek accent, which she uses to help us identify some of the many characters that are mentioned, but never actually appear, in the show. Watching Mrs Shirley Bradshaw rediscover Ms Shirley Valentine is a revelation, with some wonderfully comic lines set against some incredibly poignant and heartfelt moments.

Jodie’s performance as Shirley Valentine is a monologue masterclass which leaves many in the audience looking on in admiration, examining their own lives and wondering how soon they can jump on a plane to rediscover themselves – and find a rock of their own.

Paul Lucas-Scott – (July 2017)



I was a little apprehensive when the casting of Jodie Prenger as Shirley Valentine was first announced as I felt the part so brilliantly played by Pauline Collins in the 1989 film could hardly be bettered… but that was until now!

When I first saw the 37-year-old Blackpool-born lass star in the touring production of Calamity Jane at Milton Keynes Theatre back in November 2014, I wasn't overly impressed. Ok, I knew Jodie was a good singer but after last night's performance, she proved beyond any doubt that she can certainly act.

She first came to prominence when she won Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh's 2008 BBC television I'd Do Anything open competition to claim the part of Nancy in the revived West End production of Lionel Bart's Oliver.

Since then she has made numerous appearances on both radio and television and has been in the West End in One Man, Two Guvnors and Spamalot while her most recent solo success was in Lloyd Webber's Tell Me On A Sunday which, back in the day, originally starred Marti Webb and latterly, Lloyd Webber's second wife, Sarah Brightman.

In fact Tell Me On A Sunday must have been a huge influence on Jodie as, being a one woman show, it obviously helped in preparation for Shirley Valentine which is once again a single actor production.

As our bored, middle-aged Liverpool heroine, Jodie really shines. She delivers the wit and humour of Willy Russell's clever writing and she comes across so well that you feel as if you're sitting in the kitchen with her!
As a 42-year-old Scouse housewife, Shirley is so bored that she regularly talks to her kitchen wall while preparing her husband's dinner. With her two children grown up and having flown the nest, her humdrum life is a real bore – as is her spouse! – and she's left wondering what life is all about?
However when her friend Jane offers to take her on a freebie trip to Greece for a couple of weeks, Shirley keeps it a secret and, unbeknown to her other half, she secretively packs her bags ahead of an exciting adventure that totally changes her life.

The play itself is brilliantly written by Willy Russell whose best known offerings have also centred around Liverpudlian-based characters – Educating Rita, Our Day Out and the wonderful Blood Brothers – while Shirley Valentine really brings to the forefront the drudgery that many women feel when their long-term marriage is stagnating and loveless.
Cooking "chips and egg" every evening – surely it should be 'egg and chips' especially when he was expecting steak! – hasn't been a total fiasco for 'our Shirl', for the awards have simply rolled in over the past 30 years, those BAFTAs and Academy Award nominations being fully deserved both in the West End and on Broadway.

While the story is set in the 1980s, Shirley's kitchen has all the usual trappings – along with a chip fryer – while on the counter is a bottle of white wine and glass, the dialogue being both highly entertaining and brilliantly delivered.

Jodie is really on top form and added to her amusing delivery, we learn of Costas and his intensions towards her aboard his brother's Greek boat... and then there's that old chat up line regarding her sexy stretch marks!
The first act did seem a little long although it is punctuated with some cracking well rehearsed punchlines. However it's a little strange midway through as the lights go out briefly and two stage hands nip on to clear away the 'chips and egg' which Jodie actually prepares and cooks amid the story telling. However she then reappears dressed in a blue two-piece with a white wide-brimmed hat along with her suitcase as she awaits her taxi to the airport.

The second act see her stretched out in a swimming costume on a Greek beach having been deserted by Jane. In fact her flirty friend immediately disappeared for four days after meeting a fellow male passenger on the outward bound flight!

Then comes the description of Shirley's romantic liaison with Costas before her last minute decision run from the airport's check-in desk and to stay on in Greece and work at the local bar… and that finally brings her husband Joe to his senses and he arranges to fly out to try and win her back.

Following a truly outstanding performance as Shirley, Jodie certainly deserved her standing ovation as she's now unquestionably a very fine versatile actress indeed.

Glen Walford was the original director of the play some 30 years ago and she has returned to take charge of this Adam Spiegel production in which the scenery is simple but effective, especially that craggy rock in Greece which Shirley talks but says it doesn't understand her as it's Greek!

Milton Keynes Citizen - Alan Wooding


" Russell’s ability to extract every ounce of humour from the seemingly humdrum lives of ordinary people is remarkable and his observations are both heartwarming and hysterical. "


Shirley Valentine is a one woman show, written by Willy Russell and staring West End leading lady, Jodie Prenger.

Shirley is a Liverpool housewife - her kids have left home and she makes chips and egg for her husband while talking to the wall, wondering where her life has disappeared to! Out of the blue, her best friend offers her a trip to Greece for 2 weeks and she secretly packs her bags, heads for the sun and starts to see the world and herself very differently.
This piece, as with so many by Russell, has stood the test of time immaculately. Originally premiering in 1986 there's obvious nuances from the era, most notably in the set and costume design. However the story and themes running throughout the production still ring true today. In what is an immaculately brilliant script there's always a call for a distinct female lead who can carry it off. Educating Rita had Julie Walters. Blood Brothers had (amongst many others!) actresses like Barbara Dickson - and in the same league, Jodie Prenger steps onto the stage for this run. And what an exquisite piece of casting that is.

There was an amount of trepidation walking into the auditorium. The show had been marketed to me as 'middle aged woman rants about husband' so naturally I was worried about context! However the show is an hour and a half of pure, unadulterated brilliance. 

Prenger is best known for her work in musical theatre but is a natural comedic actress too. Her distinctive persona off stage puts her in perfect stead for the on stage equivalent and she should be applauded for the way she took the audience from moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity through to poignancy so well enacted you could hear a pin drop in the aisles.

Having just finished a run in pantomime, with a cast of many, there couldn't be a more polar opposite in terms of stage time. This show is Prenger, exposed and solo and, if we're honest, could go one of two ways. If it doesn't work then there's absolutely nowhere to hide, but it does work and beautifully so. 

The standing ovation she received at the end isn't necessarily convention for this type of piece, but it shows the audience's admiration and joy in a job well done. This was my first occasion meeting Shirley, and having read the reviews online saying 'Prenger IS Shirley Valentine', I'd put them down to the PR machine trying to sell tickets. However, after the event, I can definitely - and in an absolutely unbiased manner - concur. 

Jodie is a brilliant musical theatre performer, but this will surely go down as one of her starring performances - and rightly so.

Dan Richards – BlackCountryRadio


“It's a joy to watch and simply unmissable. “

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?

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.

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.

Alison Brinkworth – WeekendNotes


This revival of Willy Russell’s play from 1986 reminds the film version’s legions of fans that the piece started life as an extended monologue, a one-woman show.  The one woman this time, following in the footsteps of the likes of Noreen Kershaw and Pauline Collins, is musical theatre star Jodie Prenger, and I am interested to see how she will fare without recourse to her impressive singing voice.

As forlorn housewife Shirley, Prenger more than acquits herself, pulling off a comic turn that is as endearing as it is funny.  I could be churlish and nit-pick her adopted accent, which tends to roam around Merseyside at times, but on the whole, she captures the cadence of Russell’s Liverpudlian phrases – what matters is she can time a punchline, and the script is riddled with those.  As she recounts her story, Shirley presents other characters: her mardy husband, her son and daughter, her neighbour, and so on.  Prenger effectively sketches these personalities for us through voice and attitude, and tells her anecdotes with verve and energy.  Alone throughout, Prenger fills the stage with her presence and it is enjoyable to behold.

Director Gwen Walford takes a straightforward approach, having Prenger animated and larger-than-life for the funny bits, and keeping her still for the poignant moments.  Simple but strong.

Amy Yardley’s set gives us the sunshine yellow of Shirley’s kitchen – a gilded cage – and also an effective representation of a secluded Grecian beach – it is here that James Whiteside’s gorgeous lighting beats down like the relentless sun.

Jodie Prenger’s comic energy and commitment to the role keep us on board with Shirley – her journey is as much a mental one as a physical change of location – and it’s delightful to be reminded of the quality of Willy Russell’s writing.

Russell’s script stands the test of time.  There is an element of nostalgia in its references to the F-Plan diet and the Milk Tray man but the jokes hold up, as does the play’s central message: Life is to be lived.  In this sense, Shirley is more than a downtrodden housewife reclaiming her identity and asserting her independence; she is an Everyman, speaking to us all.

William Stafford - Bumsonseats


Known for his strong female characters, from Educating Rita to Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers, Willy Russell's Shirley Valentine stands head and shoulders above his other work as an in-depth exploration of what it was really like to be a woman in the 1980s. Transporting the audience from her kitchen in Liverpool to a beautiful beach in Corfu, 42-year-old Shirley Bradshaw's life is thrown out of balance by an unexpected holiday, causing her to question the mundane, limiting life she finds herself leading.

Shirley Valentine is a real one-woman show. Virtually a monologue, Russell's script gets right inside the psyche of his eponymous heroine. Her continuous flow of friendly chatter begins as a seemingly innocuous series of observations about wine, her son, bohemian culture, her husband's routine. Slowly, these threads of information form a tightly woven web which binds Shirley to a life she can no longer bear. Shirley's comic quirks - including talking to "Wall" as though it is her closest confidante - are endearing and outrageous but bely an almost manic tendency. Her evident sense of adventure is bursting at the seams of this suburban kitchen.

Jodie Prenger gives an astonishing performance in the title role. Despite the considerable demands of maintaining an audience's attention for almost two hours, she rises to the challenge and surpasses all expectations. She produces a never-ending stream of wicked impressions, anecdotes brought to life by exaggerated mime and indignant, impassioned speeches about the impossible position in which she finds herself. Her comic timing is impeccable, surveying the audience with a an impish grin before dropping the bombshell: "I still haven't told him!"

Prenger's Shirley is a passionate, strong-willed role model that transcends generations - a woman emboldened by female friendship to take a leap, thus creating a new life for herself. However, Prenger is also incredibly relatable, guiding us through this mammoth monologue as though we are old friends, catching up over a cup of tea. Her easy-going, natural approach tugs at the heartstrings; she represents countless women who have fallen out of love with themselves.

Shirley Valentine restores a ray of sunshine to a troubled present. It reminds us to take risks, speak our minds and value ourselves, even when times are tough. Jodie Prenger's extraordinary performance brings Shirley Valentine gloriously to life, moving the audience to tears of joy and sorrow. Although first performed in 1986, Russell's iconic one-woman show could have been written yesterday.

Emma Cann – Broadway World

Beginning a week’s residency, tonight’s opening show is part of a six-leg UK 30th anniversary revival tour, first premiered in 1986. Russell’s bitter/sweet comedy of self-discovery by the put upon wallflower, Shirley Valentine, later became an Oscar nomination hit in 1989 with the screenplay adaptation also by Russell. Inevitably it is against the film’s defining benchmark that tonight’s performance resonates in the audience’s memory. Albeit stretching back some twenty-six years ago, it’s still a tough act to follow.

Much is about to change for Shirley but for now, with the kids having flown the coop, the only reminder of that once cozy nest is the double egg and chips she serves up for husband Joe’s inevitable Thursday tea. His expected steak is already in next-door’s dog. The egg and chips soon to be thrown back into her lap. Time to talk to the wall again Shirley because your husband sure ain’t listening. And then there is the matter of those fortnight holiday tickets in Greece courtesy of mate Linda. They’re burning a hole both in her handbag and Catholic conscience with equal intensity. The ennui is stifling but beware, Shirley – of Greeks bearing gifts. She’s beginning to discover that the old Shirley Valentine has ‘…got lost in all that unused life.’

That this Mediterranean sun-kissed national treasure needs to be handled with care is evidently foremost in director Glen Walford’s cunning plan. It succeeds in buckets and spades and wind-kissed beach parasols. There’s the crisp bouquet of retsina after-sun pathos served up as a double-dip of deliciously delivered Greco/Scouse wit. It is hardly a plot spoiler to say that Walford returns to Russell’s original stage production and that it’s all Shirley’s one-woman show. That Jodie Prenger has hit the big time with lime-lit confidence and natural sincerity is beyond dispute. She is a glittering gallery of disarming wry innocence and caustic realism. Her inexhaustible parade of nuanced, body gestures and facial asides engage the audience with her girlish kiss ‘n’ tell bashful candour but ever maintaining that essential critical separation from familiarity. Russell’s script crackles with charged energy on a pace with Prenger’s innate gift for timing a twist or delivering a killer bathos shocker where the laughter shakes the rafters. Her recollection of her tiny son’s not quite redemptive role as Joseph in the school nativity play is worth the ticket alone.

Come Act 2, with Shirley now in Hellenic holiday heaven, the mood becomes more philosophical – her sense of location as apt as her comic timing. Designer Amy Yardley gives us a sand and basalt black and golden rock beach setting. Its pastel-paint innocence paying homage to the Great Western Railway, Art Deco, Cornish Riviera posters. Shirley beams with happiness and grabs catharsis by the scruff of the neck. Equally, Prenger makes pathos hang in the air with pin-drop silence. A highly engaging and rewarding evening and very much recommended. Wake up and smell the chips – like our Shirley, they’re for real and very appetising indeed. Perhaps, in this week of International Women’s Awareness, Shirley would be marching in celebration. She’d certainly still find much to be marching in protest about.

John Kennedy – The Reviews Hub

“ Jodie Prenger’s engagement with the audience is second to none…”


I remember feeling triumphant as a 14 year old when I managed to sneak into the local cinema to see the film version of Shirley Valentine, which was rated a 15. My excitement dwindled however after the first few minutes, when I realised the entire movie was about a middle-aged woman moaning about her mundane existence, writes Nicky Sweetland.

Now that I’m considerably more mature, the themes of the story are infinity more relatable and the 30th anniversary stage production, which is currently touring the country, acts as a reminder of how far woman have come over the last three decades, with plenty of pastiche.

Written by Willy Russell, Shirley Valentine is a play which features just one performer and follows a bored middle-aged housewife, who at the ripe old age of 42 is wondering if life has anything else left to offer.

Russell’s ability to extract every ounce of humour from the seemingly humdrum lives of ordinary people is remarkable and his observations are both heartwarming and hysterical.

First in her yellow pine kitchen, complete with beige appliances, earthenware crockery and mustard coloured décor and then on a holiday island, where she befriends a rock, Shirley berates her monotonous life and unexpectedly rediscovers herself after she decides to make a break from the relentless dreariness of her life.

The show stars Jodie Prenger, who is perhaps best known for winning the role of Nancy in the West End production of Oliver following one of the BBC’s search for a star shows. Prenger’s natural northern charm and earthy demeanor fit perfectly with Willy Russell’s central character and her rhythmic delivery of the dialogue makes her Shirley extremely endearing.

Compared to Pauline Collins, who originally played the titular role both on stage and in the 1989 film version, Prenger makes a much more glamorous homemaker and the physical comedy she brings to the role is hilarious. Her engagement with the audience is second to none and at times you feel as if you’re in her house and she’s telling you her woes one to one over a cup of tea, such is her ability to connect.

Act one is a little too long and the mid act clearing of egg and chips by stagehands feels unprofessional, but this is a minor grievance in an otherwise beautifully performed piece of theatre.

Nicky Sweetland -