Celebrating Valentine’s Day in Tunbridge Wells

    Willy Russell’s classic comedy Shirley Valentine is on at the Assembly Hall next week, with Jodie Prenger starring in the title role. As the Times discovers, it’s a performance that audiences are bound to fall in love with…

    WRY housewife Shirley Valentine famously quipped: “Why do we get all this life if we don’t ever use it?” in the film of the same name, where she was memorably played by Pauline Collins.
    Nearly 30 years on, theatre audiences can hear the lovable Liverpudlian – this time played by stage and screen actress Jodie Prenger – pose the same question as she makes egg and chips for her husband, laments her children leaving home and talks to ‘the wall’.

    This feelgood comedy about a bored housewife who, on a whim, decides to pack her bags and head off to Greece – where she finds Retsina and romance – was written by famous playwright Willy Russell, who also penned West End classics Educating Rita and Blood Brothers.

    Three decades on from its first theatre outing in Liverpool, the comedy clearly still has enduring appeal, given the success of its first UK theatre tour to celebrate its 30th birthday.

    Next week, the cast pitches up in Tunbridge Wells at the Assembly Hall, where it will perform from Monday to Saturday [July 3 to 8].

    Of the revival, Willy Russell says: “It’s now 30 years since Shirley Valentine first walked on to the page, into my life and the lives of so many others.

    “Shirley cooked her first meal of egg and chips on the stage of the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool before then hoofing it down to London where, along with the cooking and talking to the wall, she started picking up the string of awards she’d win in the West End, on Broadway and in the film that won both a BAFTA Award and Academy Award nominations.”

    Although Shirley Valentine has been translated into many different languages and has toured all over the world, the one thing Willy Russell says Shirley has not done is extensively tour the UK.
    “There have been approaches and plans mooted but, somehow, it’s just never quite felt right and so I’ve resisted such efforts – until now!”

    His mind was made up when producer Adam Spiegel introduced him to Jodie Prenger, who won the BBC’s talent search I’d Do Anything in 2008, and has starred in Tell Me on a Sunday and Oliver!
    “I 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.”

     For ticket prices and performance times, see www.assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk