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Shirley Valentine
Written by Willy Russell
Date of premiere 1986
Place of premiere Everyman Theatre
Original language English
Subject A holiday in Greece refreshes an unhappy middle aged Liverpool housewife in more ways than one
Genre Comedy

Shirley Valentine is a one-character play by Willy Russell. It takes the form of a monologue by a middle-aged, working class Liverpool housewife. It focuses on her life before and after a transforming holiday abroad.


Shirley finds herself regularly alone and talking to the wall. She prepare an evening meal of egg and chips for her emotionally distant husband. Her best friend offers to pay for a trip-for-two to Greece. She leaves a note on the cupboard door in the kitchen. In Greece she rediscovers what she had been missing in England. She is so happy that she decides not to return. She leaves her friend at the airport and goes back to the hotel. She asks for a job.


Commissioned in 1986, by the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. Noreen Kershaw starred. It was directed by Glen Walford. In 1988 it opened in London's West End at the Vaudeville Theatre. Pauline Collins starred. It was directed by Simon Callow. On 16 February 1989, the Broadway production, with Collins again directed by Callow, opened at the Booth Theatre. It ran for 324 performances. Ellen Burstyn replaced Collins later in the run. Loretta Swit starred in a US national tour in 1995.

From 26 March - 8 May 2010, as part of the Willy Russell season at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Meera Syal played Shirley in the production's first London West End revival. A West End transfer of the Menier Chocolate Factory production ran at the Trafalgar Studios from 20 July - 30 October 2010. Meera Syal reprised her role as Shirley; this production was adapted and broadcast by BBC Radio Four in 2010 and 2017.

A 30th Anniversary Tour, starring Jodie Prenger ran in the UK from March 2017 to November 2017.

Awards and nominations

  • 1988 Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy
  • 1988 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress
  • 1989 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play
  • 1989 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
  • 1989 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
  • 1989 Theatre World Award for Outstanding Broadway Debut
  • 1989 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play
  • 1989 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Play
  • 1989 Tony Award for Best Play

Film adaptation

Russell adapted his play for a 1989 film version, directed by Lewis Gilbert, with Collins again playing the title role.

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