Review Round Up: Shirley Valentine, Duke of York’s Theatre

Discover what is being said about this new revival of Willy Russell’s play starring Sheridan Smith…

(c)Helen Murray

WhatsOnStage: **** “Smith is just wonderful as she recounts the opening of her own mind. As an actress she has always had a lovely ability to bond with an audience, and here she takes them into her confidence like a well-practised stand-up, building ties of complicity with well-judged pauses and little sideways darts of her sparkling eyes.”

The Stage: *** “This time around, in an eminently capable production by Matthew Dunster, it’s Sheridan Smith wielding the chip pan and the suntan oil – and she could hardly be more radiantly charming, nor display a defter, more persuasive command of Russell’s blend of sentimentality and wry humour. Yet it just doesn’t feel like quite enough.”

The Guardian: **** “What is striking about Matthew Dunster’s production is that it leans into the sense of a bygone time and is deceptively passé at the start. There are references to the Milk Tray Man, the drachma and the EEC. Jane, who invites Shirley (Sheridan Smith) on a holiday to Crete, is branded a feminist because she has divorced her husband. Paul Wills’s 80s kitchen set mirrors the pastel colour scheme of Shirley’s mint trousers and pink bat-winged top.”

The Telegraph: **** “The charismatic actress might be the perfect casting in Willy Russell’s solo piece – though its moral air might be growing a little stale.”

Time Out: **** “Yes, it’s a big-hearted celebration of working-class potential and all that stuff people associate with Russell. But it’s also a canny and in some ways chilling look at the systematisation of society, and our natural propensity to see ourselves as cogs in a machine. And this is an expert revival, blessed with a true star performance, alive to every aspect of ‘Shirley Valentine’, from its big heart to its troubled soul.”

Broadway World: **** “Russell’s writing is inherently very funny and Smith mines every last drop of comedy. Often she tackles the show more as if she is performing a very slick stand-up routine, rather than a play. The audience is her confidente and she revels in the reactions, more than once fighting not to corpse. This interaction seems to galvanise her performance; this is a role she seems born to play.”

The Upcoming: **** “Smith commands the stage with great skill and never loses a beat as her character moves between jokes and touching reflections. Although it’s far from being a masterpiece, Shirley Valentine is a lighthearted, feel-good play that borders on stand-up comedy, so it never really dips in terms of energy, making it almost impossible to dislike.”

London : *** “But then perhaps that cosiness is a tonic right now — and there’s no doubting the kitsch charm of Matthew Dunster’s production. Paul Wills supplies a 1980s mint-green kitchen (matched by Shirley’s trousers) and later a dazzling splash of blue sky, melting into a pink sunset – shimmering in Lucy Carter’s luscious lighting design. It’s basically Mamma Mia! without the ABBA.”

The Independent: ***** “What we are really here to see, though, is a performer of rare gifts at the top of her game. After a few so-so TV projects, it’s a joy to see Smith back on stage, where she shines so brightly. She already has two Olivier awards to her name; a third seems a certainty. Start engraving the trophy.”

iNews: **** “It is a felicitous moment for theatregoers when we realise that we have come across the perfect pairing of performer and part. Such is the case with Matthew Dunster’s jaunty revival of Willy Russell’s 1986 modern classic, as Sheridan Smith was surely born to play chirpy yet downtrodden Liverpudlian wife and mother Shirley Valentine. Smith, an ebullient performer who positively exudes warmth, has a ball with this one-woman play, greeting the audience with a lovely smile before she starts to speak and welcoming us effortlessly into her everywoman narrative.”

Theatre Fan: ***** “Smith is an utterly magnetic presence as Shirley Valentine. Wonderfully charming with a deliciously wicked sense of humour. She has the audience eating out of her hand from the very beginning.”

Evening Standard: *** “Full marks to Smith, then, who sells the material with utter conviction. Her performance as Shirley recalls two of her greatest stage roles, blending the vitality of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde the Musical with the fractured romanticism of Doris, the barmaid married to a Polish Count, in Rattigan’s Flare Path, which won her the Evening Standard’s Natasha Richardson Award for Best Actress in 2011.”

Theatre Weekly: “Director Matthew Dunster opens up Shirley’s home and life to the audience and his pacing means that every line Sheridan Smith delivers is done so with the precision required to amuse, shock, or cajole the audience as the script intended. Paul Will’s set is the picture of 80’s drab domesticity, opening up after the interval to portray the tranquillity of a Greek island.”

Rewrite This Story: ***** “What’s so wonderful about this show, and I’m sure why it resonates with so many, is that it’s all about a normal person. There’s no larger than life drama or swooping romantic relationships, instead there’s a genuine character discussing real life issues. In a way it’s sad that so many can relate to Shirley’s feelings but hopefully this show will help people realise that they are not alone and that your life, however small it may feel, is a glorious, stage worthy one too!”

Broadway Baby: ***** “It’s rare to feel that everyone around you is able to find something in the play that speaks to them, but that happened in this theatre. It is the nature of Willy Russell’s play that it has an affinity with the human psyche and the desires that we all share. By the end of the night I was moved, all those around me were moved and possibly even Smith herself was moved by the audience reaction that followed. This is one of those shows that will live long in the memory. Masterfully written, beautifully staged and exceptionally performed.”

Shirley Valentine continues to play at the Duke of York’s Theatre until the 3rd June. To book tickets click here.

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