ORLANDO — Maybe we all love to indulge in fantasies about escaping from it all, and finding an exotic location to get away to. Those moments when we feel like we’re in a rut and it’s not likely to get any better bring on those escape fantasies in full force; which may be why it’s particularly appealing to watch a theater production about a likable person who not only entertains dreams of escaping from their unhappiness, but actually does it.
Shirley Valentine does just that in the play by Willy Russell, and it’s not at all hard to cheer her on every step of the way. Part of the appeal of Russell’s play is that Shirley is a very likable character, but also very common, ordinary one. You can instantly relate to her life: the kids are grown and off on their own, and she has a bland husband, and Shirley knows he doesn’t love her anymore. Her favorite companion these days in the wall in her kitchen, which she talks to a lot.
And as portrayed in a stellar performance by Sarah-Lee Dobbs, watching the revival of Shirley Valentine at the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, it’s not a matter of hoping she truly does escape, but gearing up to cheer her on enthusiastically once she does.
What Is Shirley Valentine All About?
This one-woman play had its debut in 1986 at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, and two years later opened in London’s West End at the Vaudeville Theatre, with Pauline Collins playing the title role. An even larger audience discovered this story when it became a 1989 movie.
The play opens with Shirley alone in her kitchen, cooking her husband some chips and eggs — something of a rebellious act, she readily admits, since it’s Thursday and he always wants steak on Thursday nights. Shirley has discovered wine, and as she sips from her glass and cooks on the stove, she can’t help wondering what happened to her youth and vitality. Her husband is emotionally distant, and it all makes her feel like she’s trapped in a hopelessly dreary existence.
So when Shirley’s best friend offers to pay for a trip-for-two to Greece, Shirley is more than ready to pack her bags and begin this new journey of self-discovery. Her decision is made even easier that night when she serves her husband his dinner, and he practically throws the plate of chips and eggs at her.
A big question for the Fringe audience, I supposed, is whether they can relate to a middle-aged character who speaks in a thick Liverpool accent. As directed by Fringe veteran Laurel Clark, I doubt anyone in the audience will have any problems relating to Shirley. A key reason is Dobbs’ exuberant performance. Even when Shirley is reflecting back on the frustrations and disappointments in her life, it never comes across as self-pity, and most of us are likely to feel we’ve all had our Shirley Valentine moments in our own lives.
And when Shirley finds herself in Greece, rediscovering the things that have been missing from her life in England, her search for happiness becomes ours as well. And it’s great to have this very funny and sweet performance by Dobbs to get us there.
Where Can You Get Tickets?
Shirley Valentine is being presented in the Brown Venue on the following dates:
* Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
* Thursday at 7:15 p.m.
* Saturday at 1:15 p.m.
* Sunday at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $10, and you need a Fringe button to get into the shows. Tickets can be purchased at Orlando Fringe.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Of Cats And Wolves.” Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.