The play 'Shirley Valentine'

The play, ‘Shirley Valentine’, written by Willy Russell tells the story of Shirley Valentine’s life, showing her character transformation from Shirley Bradshaw to Shirley Valentine, it is a play about a stifled middle-aged woman who finds relief abroad from her tedious, routine lifestyle in Liverpool. The dramatic techniques used by Will Russell in the play help the audience comprehend the importance of Shirley’s transformation. In this circumstance, it’s Shirley Valentine and her life. Other dramatic devices used are, voice over, flashbacks, dramatic monologue, pathetic fallacy as well as others.

These devices help us to understand Shirley’s character and with this it easier to understand how Shirley has changed

Willy Russell’s authorial context is seen through the character of ‘Shirley Valentine’ and his past experiences of him growing up in a feminine household has influenced this play by being the basis of Shirley’s aspects on life. The social historical context is also from Russell, Russell coming from a working class background and him being born in Liverpool which is where half the play was set.

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He started of as a hairdresser and from here he got an insight into womens life .He started to attend night class on drama and this is where he picked up his love for script writing. After this he began to write comical songs and then he began to write scripts. His first play ‘Blind Scouse’ was premiered at Edinburgh festival and then in 1990 he wrote ‘Shirley Valentine’. Kitchen sink drama deals with working class people and their everyday lives, and this is related with Shirley as this play deals with her everyday life.

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Kitchen sink drama relates with ‘Shirley Valentine’ in many aspects and this play may be influenced by kitchen sink drama. ‘Shirley Valentine’ deals with Shirley’s everyday life which is similar to kitchen sink drama

The opening credits of the film depict cartoon pictures of Shirley doing domestic chores of a stereotypical woman’s life. Willy Russell has used pictures such as Shirley Valentine doing the gardening, hanging up the washing and washing up the dishes. Also, not once did Willy Russell screen a picture of her not doing a household chore, moreover, this is further reflected by the use of contrasting colours, which expresses the mood. The colours chosen by Russell portray a disconsolate atmosphere by the use of dull blue and white. This selection of colours tells us the mood of the cartoon as one of depression, it tells us the cartoon is meant to be gloomy and depressing. Willy Russell has used blue in a dreary way, expressing the emotion of unhappiness and boredom. The film opens with Shirley returning home from her shopping, a routine part of her routine life. As she goes into the kitchen to put her bags away, she leans her back and head against the door and sighs, this goes to illustrate her boredom and exhaustion of what she does for a living. After putting her bags on the table she turns to the wall and says “Hello wall,” which emphasises her loneliness by talking to the wall.

Throughout the play voiceovers and flashbacks are used. Willy Russell uses these to involve the audience and to give us an understanding of how and why Shirley Valentine has become the person she is in her present day. Another reason for why flashbacks and voiceovers are used because Russell wishes to introduce new characters as well as to tell the audience her thoughts and opinions on these characters, which are usually biased. In using flashbacks, the audience is able to understand her past and capture all the vital moments in her life in a small period of time. A different point to the use of flashbacks is so that we become one with Shirley Valentine. Furthermore we are able to acknowledge the situation Shirley Valentine is in now and the reason being of her wanting to change herself, and how she felt that she had wasted her life.

From the flashbacks the audience is able to distinguish that her marriage with Joe Bradshaw was once a couple that got along well. “I love you… Shirley Valentine,” (pg.14) says Joe. This quote represents that they were happily married, that deep down inside they do love each other. They were once a regular couple but through this small flashback, we can see things have heavily changed. Our thoughts of Joe throughout the play may be a negative one but at least we know that Joe does love his wife and that there may be more to him as a person. But despite all of this we can easily see that their marriage has turned from a ripe grape to a sour one. Their relationship has peaked and it now may be on its last legs. “Never mind the bleedin’ wall. Its nearly six o’ clock, get on with getting’ me tea,” (pg.15) here Joe is frustrated now and grumpy, it shows through the language he uses he is not bothered about anything else and he is treating his wife like an ignorant maid. From these two quotes we are able to see how the respect they had for each other has been misplaced and may never be found again. So the decline of their marriage is easily traceable through the flashbacks and the present time.

Through flashback one is also able to view the changes that have occurred in Shirley Valentine since she was a teenager. As a teenager Shirley Valentine used to be a rebel this was due to her being put down. For example her headmistress, “Oh, Shirley, do put your hand down. You couldn’t possibly know the answer.” (pg.23) its not that Shirley didn’t try to succeed but when she tried to take a step further in her life she wasn’t believed in, in this case Shirley Valentine knew an answer to a question asked by the school headmistress and when she innocently answered the question the headmistress scolded her for getting it right. After all this Shirley Valentine had given up trying to further her education and making an effort of trying to be good because it obliviously wasn’t getting her anywhere in life.

When she became a rebel she did dreadful things like sticking a knife in Marjorie Major’s souffl�. Shirley Valentine would wear a school skirt as high as a serviette. ”I hate the world. I hate everything its garbage. Its crap and I hate it” (pg.25). Shirley Valentine hated everything. After all this, Shirley had given up trying to further her education and making an effort of trying to be a bright student because every good thing she tried to do a bad thing happening to her was inevitable, this was when she turned into a ‘rebel’ and began to have a pessimistic view on life. It is because of this when she received her awful report and found out that she had failed all of her subjects, she just tore the report into pieces and replied with the disrespectful yet witty comment ‘Well, tickle my tits till Friday!’ (pg.28). By Shirley replying this way it shows us her insouciant attitude, as well as her intelligence as she is able to resort with sarcastic humour.

As an adult she shows only small amounts of assertiveness she expressed as a teenager. Willy Russell uses voiceover to tell us of what she really is contemplating and not what comes out of her mouth. “I’m not sayin’ she’s a bragger- but if you’ve been to paradise, she’s got a season ticket.” and “if you’ve got a headache… she’s got a brain tumour.” (pg.3) I think Willy Russell uses voiceovers to represent that Shirley Valentine has still got a little teenage rebel personality in her. But she doesn’t express her felling publicly like she used too, she keeps to herself because she lacks self confidence.

Encounters with minor characters establish Shirley’s character and reveals changes she has gone through. In this play many minor characters are used to build Shirley’s character. Characters such as Millandra show that Shirley is a typical stereotyped house. ‘Mother, do us a favour and bring up the telly upstairs for us, will you’ (pg 43). But when she is Greece we see elements of the rebel she was in high school. In Greece the characters that also contribute to Shirley’s transformation are Jeanette and Dougie as well as Costas. Dougie and Jeanette are a married couple, which we know are from Manchester as Shirley introduces them as ‘Dougie and Jeanette from Manchester’. When Dougie and Jeanette ridicule the Greeks, Shirley defends Greece by again saying the fact that ‘It was the Greeks… who were responsible for the most important invention of all- the wheel!’ (pg. 57)

This shows Shirley’s restoration of confidence and how much more independent she has become .This also shows that Shirley is firm about what she believes in, unlike before where she was a slave in her own home. During this play we are able to realise that Shirley has a good sense of humour, since her school days we know that Shirley has changed and one of her differences is her humor, we can tell this because when she meets minor she occasionally tells a joke, ‘Yeh it must be. All those sprouts’ (pg 4). In this play Minor characters are very important and are used affectively. With the minor characters we see how Shirley acts in certain situations and we are able to understand her better. By the use of minor characters we see how Shirley has changed. In Greece she is a completely difference person as she was in Liverpool and minor characters show us how.

In Greece Shirley meets a Greek man called Costas. Costas’ ‘genuine affection’ from first meeting Shirley, gives the impression that he is really interested in her and wants a relationship with her. Costas’ displays of affection helped Shirley realise how much she had felt uncared for, especially by Joe as he had become less interested in Shirley sexually. However, from this, the audience begin to understand that despite Costas’ claims that ‘he wont make foak with her’ those were his exact intentions. After Shirley’s encounter with Costas on his boat she then felt as if she had found what she was looking for as she says, ‘I’ve fallen in love with the idea of living’. (pg. 71) We know that falling in love with life is greatest achievement, because in a previous flashback, she said, ‘I hate everything’ which gave us the impression that she hated life. But know she loves life and through just one minor character we are able to identify a significant transformation in Shirley’s character. From this we are able to see the real transformation from Shirley Bradshaw to Shirley Valentine

Russell’s use of dramatic monologue creates a trusting relationship with the audience, which allows us to empathise with Shirley. Russell uses monologues to involve the audience in Shirley’s life; they both don’t talk to each other since their marriage has broken down, instead she talks to wall. Monologues are evidence for us that Shirley feels isolated but she also does so when she is contented. “On Thursday it has to be steak!” she is telling us how arrogant and demanding Joe is. She is lonely, that he is the main reason she is talking to the wall. “Hello Wall”. Russell also uses monologues when Shirley is happy in Greece, when her dream she had when she was in Liverpool, she wanted to sit by the sea and drink wine, “Funny isn’t it? You know, when you are pictured something – and you’ve imagined how something’s goanna be well, it never…”(pg.61) I’ve lived such a little life. An even that’ll be over pretty soon…”(pg.61) she is tired of her life in Liverpool; she is telling us she has lived a short life even though she is not very old. Russell use of voiceover, help the audience to understand the flashbacks. Shirley in voiceovers explains what is going on and when she is talking about someone, “And all the time I suppose I really wanted to be like her”

Willy Russell also uses dramatic monologue to enable the audience to get closer to Shirley Valentine and to bond with the audience so they can realise Shirley in her true character, it helps us to understand Shirley Valentine and her life in her point of view. The dramatic monologue allows Shirley Valentine to confide in the audience like the wall.

Russell was born in Liverpool and uses the contrast between the two settings, Liverpool and Greece, to emphasise Shirley Valentine mood change throughout the play. Born and raised in Liverpool Willey Russell was able to paint the weather of Liverpool: dreary and dull, but in Greece, it’s hot and sunny all day. All the houses look similar, not very sociable and it has a routine lifestyle in Liverpool. In Greece it’s very sociable, everyone is out and about laughing away, all together the people in Greece are just having fun. Liverpool is known for Shirley Valentine’s routine lifestyle with Joe and she was unhappy and lonely. In Greece, she started to stand up for herself, like against a few holidaymakers, “the Greeks! And it was the Greeks; I’ll have you know who were responsible for the most important invention of all- the wheel!” (pg.57). This shows she is regaining self-confidence. Shirley Valentine in Greece starts to get back to her old self, she tastes the freedom and she knows she can regain her old self again.

At the end of the play, Shirley has changed her view of life and she has altered her mood to be a more positive and relaxed person. The audience have now witnessed Shirley Valentine’s character development throughout the whole play with the aid of dramatic devices used by Willy Russell. Shirley Valentine at the end of the play has built up confidence and the ability to stand up for herself, for example when Joe travels all the way to Greece to collect Shirley Valentine, even though he absolutely detests traveling. This goes to show that after Joe has contemplated about Shirley Valentine and himself, he arrives at the conclusion that he was in the wrong. Joe goes to meet her, to try and bring her back home. But this time they talk in a civilised manner, and Joe treats Shirley Valentine with respect, “Would you like to join me for a drink?” (pg.89) says Shirley, “Er… thanks,” (pg.89) replies Joe. So the couple have come to respect each other in the end. In this play there is a big change in Shirley’s character. She is not the tedious housewife who had no life. She is now Shirley Valentine. ‘I used to be a mother. I used to be a wife. But now I’m Shirley Valentine again’ (pg.89). Shirley herself knows she has changed and she is happy with who is she is now and would not consider changing.

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The play 'Shirley Valentine'. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

The play 'Shirley Valentine'

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