Shirley Valentine, Theatre Review, February 28, 2020, Lyric Theatre, Belfast

Shirley Valentine, February 28, 2020, Lyric Theatre, Belfast

By Conor O’Neill

Photography courtesy of Johnny Frazer

Strange to think it’s only been a few months since Shirley Valentine first opened at the Lyric last September. You may also be thinking the Lyric is milking the cash cow by putting it on again so soon too, but with a sell-out run behind them and public demand so high the Lyric would be mad not to run the gig again.

Shirley just arrived in Greece

It’s as fresh as it was in the initial run, solo actor Tara Lynne O’Neill is far from script weary and the close to 400 adoring fans packed into the main auditorium surely didn’t seem fazed to see the show again. If anything, last night’s performance was more invigorating than what I remembered from only a few months ago.

Those of us, of a certain age, will of course remember Willy Russell’s 1989 film of the same name. Hats off to Oisỉn Kearney for his pitch perfect script relocation. To you and me that’s a fancy term for transferring Russell’s Merseyside lingo to something more local to us sitting in the Lagan delta. Kearney is on a bit of a run at the moment with his and Michael Patrick’s award-winning play, My Left Nut, being transferred to the tele and ready for streaming in March on BBC 3.

Shirley cooking and cleaning

To those unaware of the general plot, it goes something like this: a 42-year-old Liverpudlian housewife and mother worn down by the futility and the monotony of the daily grind finds herself with an opportunity that seems too good to pass up on yet too big to embrace. The first act sets out Shirley’s stall. How love turned to routine, neighbours, friends, children and almost everyone in Shirley’s seemingly ever diminishing circle sees her as she sees herself.

Patrick J. O’Reilly sits once again in the director’s chair and as per form, things go like clockwork. Perfect moments with the radio barely audible as Elton sings ‘I’m still standing’ while the pan sizzles with eggs and chips; the Colditz scene – which somehow escaped my attention the first-time round – brought the house down. Set changes are few and far between – want to move from a Belfast kitchen to the azure blue of a Greek island? Simply pull the walls down.

Shirley in kitchen with radio

Set design, lighting, music, wardrobe… the whole shebang, simple yet perfectly suited.

This may be a one actor show but characters are here in abundance. Whether it be Marjorie Magennis, daughter Millandra, wayward son Brian’s headmaster, her own headmistress, interfering neighbour Gillian, Greek lover, Costas, failed feminist friend Jane and her dalliance with ‘the walking groin’ and many more make O’Neill a delight to watch.

The play is of two acts. The first being stomach crunching, and somewhat blue, hysteria. About two thirds of the audience are women and to us menfolk the gags don’t quite fall in our favour, but the universal nature of Shirley’s plight is unifying. The piss is taken out of both genders; we’re more alike than we prefer to admit.

Shirley on make-shift lounger

After the interval, the second act is more introspective, and more stirring than the giggles of the first. A wasted life is a ‘crime against God, against nature’. Love and life unused.

If you’ve ever talked to the wall, or a Greek rock ‘who doesn’t understand me anyway’. Felt the pressure of self-doubt, never realised in yourself what others do? Then this is the play for you. You’ll laugh and then look at your life, then laugh again, and then some. What you will come away with is a reassuring, affirmative view on this fleeting thing we call life.

Shirley Valentine runs at the Lyric up to and including March 15th. Matinee shows are on Saturdays and Sundays.

For booking info visit or phone the box office on 02890 381081

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