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Classic comedy is revitalised by new production

PUBLISHED: 11:57 06 February 2020 | UPDATED: 11:57 06 February 2020

Keddy Sutton as Shirley Valentine in Willy Russell's play at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds  Photo by Aaron Weight

Keddy Sutton as Shirley Valentine in Willy Russell's play at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds Photo by Aaron Weight

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Review: Shirley Valentine, by Willy Russell, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until February 15

Keddy Sutton as Shirley Valentine in Willy Russell's play at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds  Photo by Aaron WeightKeddy Sutton as Shirley Valentine in Willy Russell's play at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds Photo by Aaron Weight

When I first saw the film version of Shirley Valentine, I was in my early twenties and found it sad and lacking in excitement or interest. Now, in my forties, watching Willy Russell's brilliantly crafted, one-woman play, I realise that is exactly the point.

For this is the story of how a woman can so easily lose herself in the daily grind of life, marriage and housework. How children casually activate auto-mum, even when grown and living elsewhere, and how drinking wine is the only solution to the boredom of cooking the evening meal. It is the story of middle age and now I can relate. As I am sure everyone 40+ can in their own way, male or female.

All of which, I realise, paints a rather dark picture, but rest assured this play is anything but dull thanks to a wonderfully witty script and its star's fantastic, warm-hearted delivery.

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It takes talent and range - not to mention a good memory - to perform a one-actor play and Keddy Sutton is simply superb as middle-aged housewife, Shirley. Endearing and funny, she chats to the wall/audience as friends, taking them on a journey through her character's past and present, moving easily between sadness and laughter and, on occasion, cooking eggs at the same time (now that's impressive).

The first act sets the scene of domestic drudgery with tales of dinners thrown, a husband set in his ways, lost youth and misplaced jealousy - aptly recounted as dinner is being prepared. There's also a story about a friend who's a call girl and rather more mentions of the clitoris than you might expect but you get the idea.

The second act transports us to the Mediterranean as Shirley finally escapes her rut and, with no warning or goodbyes, takes her burden of 'unused life' to find passion and adventure in Greece.

Funny, touching and, in no small way, inspirational.

So, is it really possible to still be a brave, engaging, vibrant woman in middle age? I am given hope and if you need me, I'll be at the travel agents.

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