Friday, October 30, 2015

Review: Shirley Valentine in Kilcullen

Thirty years after Willy Russell wrote his one-woman play 'Shirley Valentine', the core elements portrayed of the life of an ordinary woman trapped in domesticity still ring loud and true, writes Brian Byrne.

Last night's performance in Kilcullen by local drama teacher Evelyn O'Sullivan brought that hauntingly home to a packed house. Of mostly women, it should be said. But that doesn't mean there wasn't anything there for men who are equally so trapped.

Because that's the underlying premise of Russell's play, the 'unused life' that afflicts all of us who slip into the state of forgetting that life is to be lived. And lived today. Because, as my own father always said, 'this is not a rehearsal'.

Even with all her ongoing Drama Dynamics activities, Evelyn must have burned the candle both ends to find enough learning and rehearsal time for 'Shirley Valentine', her first full-length solo stage foray. Because from curtain up at last night's performance, she was no longer the Evelyn O'Sullivan we all know, but an absolute reincarnation of Shirley Bradshaw, reached a stage of life where she only had the wall of her kitchen to talk to.

No matter how well written, words on a play script page are only words. To come to life, they need flesh and blood, tongues that speak, emotions to release. And someone to feel all that as an audience. Theatre is a team effort for all, the writer, the actor, the director, and those who have paid to come and experience the result. Last night proved just how well something can be if all of that falls perfectly into place.

Writing a monologue play where the actor has to bring a whole set of other characters alive is difficult enough, but Willy Russell had the skill and experience to do so even three decades ago. And the Shirley Bradshaw ("I used to be Shirley Valentine") in Kilcullen last night was as real as the Liverpool housewife he envisaged all that time back.

So were the other characters in Shirley's life. Husband Joe, trapped himself in the same stifling space as he kept his wife, unchanging as a beetle encased in amber. Their children, gone from home but as unseeing of their mother as was their father. Her school friends, whom she thought had advanced way beyond her. Costa, her short term lover in Greece, where she learned that the Shirley Valentine she had once been, could have a dream come true at a table beside the soft Grecian waves. And could make it come true for others too, if they were prepared to let it.

Shirley Valentine in Kilcullen last night was a helter-skelter ride between despair, humanity, love, loss, happiness, and generosity of spirit. Evelyn O'Sullivan achieved the most difficult task, keeping an audience in the thrall of her Liverpudlian character's voice and actions for the complete performance.

The standing ovation at the end, for the actor and her EvE Productions partner in the play, director Eunice Lavelle, was deserved as much as any would be in London's West End or on Broadway.

This was a quintessential tour de force, and those lucky enough to have tickets for tonight's remaining performance are in for a truly memorable experience.

(All the pictures here..)