An evening spent with Shirley Valentine is like an evening spent with your best friend. She is in equal parts funny, endearing, cynical, vulnerable and brutally honest. This one-woman show is as brilliant as it is fearless and Mandi Lodge delivers an outstanding performance in the title role of the currently touring HIT Production version.
A good show starts with a good script, and Shirley Valentine is a masterpiece that will be as relevant in ten years as it is today. Originally published in 1986 by Willy Russell, Shirley Valentine received a Laurence Olivier Award for Best new Comedy in 1988, a Tony Award for Best Play in 1989 and after being made into a film in 1989 it received a BAFTA nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Shirley's most endearing feature is that she's relatable. Her story is universal. Everyone, even men, will be able to see parts of themselves reflected in her, at the very least in her disillusionment and discontent with where her life has stalled in middle age. Her dream of running away, re-claiming herself and fulfilling her potential is both uplifting and sad. Though clearly isolated in a cold and distant marriage, with no real friends and two adult children, Shirley has every reason to feel weary and jaded. My only criticism of the show is that she's only forty-two.
For the most part hilarious, you'll relate to Shirley's stories and situations, empathise with her hard knocks, applaud her spunk and respect the way she handles her insecurities. She's upfront and honest and in many ways wise, creating a show that is both entertaining and masterful in the way it guides us from a place of feeling insubstantial into how we can achieve a greater feeling of self-contentment and worth. Flowing at a steady pace throughout, the script is never boring even when it slows, becoming poignant and insightful. This show will ultimately lift you up with its overall message of hope.
Mandi Lodge is fabulous and totally believable as Shirley. Sustaining a 130-minute one-woman show is a massive achievement and she well deserved a standing ovation at the end. With no supporting cast and nowhere to hide, Lodge encapsulates the role and is utterly fearless. Using nothing more than different inflections and voices she is able to bring other characters onto the stage with her, and the execution of each story is carefully delivered and perfectly timed. She is endearing and wry and utterly likable. She will make you laugh just as easily as she'll move you to tears.
A British-born singer and actress, Lodge brings an authenticity to the role. Her experience shows with credits including Busting Out at the Hayworth Theatre in Los Angeles and then the UK, Sharon in Dumped! The Musical We've All Been Through, Menopause the Musical, Rita in Educating Rita (Another Willy Russell classic), The Miracle Worker and Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd opposite Rob Guest. Lodge is also currently touring as Louise Seger in another HIT Production, Always… Patsy Cline.