Shirley Valentine Reviews – starring Sheridan Smith ★★★★

The West End revival of Willy Russell’s acclaimed comedy Shirley Valentine has opened at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London.

Reviews are coming in for the show, which sees TV and stage star Sheridan Smith take the lead role of Shirley in this much-loved one-person comedy.

Shirley Valentine is running at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London until 3 June 2023, with final tickets now available.

Shirley Valentine is the joyous, life-affirming story of the woman who got lost in marriage and motherhood, the woman who wound up talking to the kitchen wall whilst cooking her husband’s chips and egg. But Shirley still has a secret dream. And in her bag, an airline ticket. One day she may just leave a note, saying: ‘Gone!  Gone to Greece.’

This new production of Shirley Valentine is directed by Matthew Dunster, designed by Paul Wills, with lighting design by Lucy Carter, sound design by Ian Dickinsonfor Autograph and is produced by David Pugh. 

Check out reviews from all of the major UK newspapers and publications.

More reviews to follow

Book tickets to Shirley Valentine at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London

Average Critics Rating

Shirley Valentine reviews

The Guardian

"Sheridan Smith disarms and dazzles with heart and soul"

"Willy Russell’s 1986 monologue about a neglected woman’s midlife liberation is given new life in this perceptive production"

"What is striking about Matthew Dunster’s production is that it leans into the sense of a bygone time and is deceptively passé at the start."

"The light and froth is a cunning trick, the play’s core crisis revealing itself in measures. When it does, it feels real and painful. The deeper, existential elements are powered by Smith’s disarming and quietly dazzling performance. She mines every ounce of cheeky comedy but also builds such surreptitious and organic emotional undercurrents that we buy every moment, and the play is eternally relevant."

"Russell’s script shows a deep and compassionate understanding of a certain kind of working-class woman at a certain age (though 42 seems rather premature for a midlife crisis now)."

"Like Russell’s play Educating Rita, this is a work we know better through film, but Smith brings its heart and soul back to the theatre."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Evening Standard

"Superb Sheridan Smith breathes life into this dated play"

"It’s great to see her back on stage"

"Here’s a perfect match between a star and a comfy but creaky star vehicle. Sheridan Smith has great warmth, impeccable timing and a rare ability to connect with an audience as an equal."

"It requires Smith’s specific talents to make it work and she turns it into a charming showcase for them. With almost any other actress I suspect it would be unwatchably patronising and old fashioned."

"Russell’s play is a grimly fascinating reminder of an era when male writers regularly described unfulfilled, parochial female lives and were praised for their empathy and insight. Full marks to Smith, then, who sells the material with utter conviction."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Telegraph

"Sheridan Smith is a retro triumph as Shirley Valentine"

"The charismatic actress might be the perfect casting in Willy Russell’s solo piece – though its moral air might be growing a little stale"

"The person who suggested that Sheridan Smith was the perfect casting for a new revival of Shirley Valentine was the play’s long-successful yet slightly undersung author, Willy Russell. And why wouldn’t he? Smith is a national treasure, with a strong track-record in comedy and the charisma needed to convince as a garrulous but boxed-in Liverpudlian housewife. Moreover, the actress’s past stage-roles affirm her rare forte for insinuating some quiet sorrows beneath the social fizz."

"On the evidence of the performance I saw, which prompted a standing ovation, a star has been reborn. If we loved Smith before, we’re going to fall in love with her all over again."

"Shirley’s discovery of redemptive satisfaction in the arms of an attentive Greek ladies’-man feels inescapably dated... Still, it’s all so lightly done that it’s like a holiday itself from our vogue for reproof."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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The Independent

"Sheridan Smith gives the performance of the year so far"

"Willy Russell’s 1986 warm, wistful play about a bored housewife is the perfect vehicle for Smith’s return to the stage"

"Sheridan Smith and Shirley Valentine: it’s a match made in theatre heaven. Willy Russell’s 1986 one-woman play is a beloved British classic; Smith is a national treasure. It sounds like it should work, and it really, really does."

"At times, it’s as though she’s delivering a rapid-fire comedy set, at others, an elegy to missed potential."

"... the part proves to be the perfect showcase for Smith’s talents, marrying her knack for nuance with her relish for a funny line, all threaded through with her innate likability. It’s an early contender for the best performance of the year."

"Matthew Dunster’s unfussy production knows that this is the Sheridan show, and allows her performance to take centre stage... She already has two Olivier awards to her name; a third seems a certainty. Start engraving the trophy.

Jessie Thompson, The Independent
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The Times

"Sheridan Smith’s charm conquers all"

"Smith turns out to be a perfect fit for the role in the director Matthew Dunster’s brisk production. She’s irreverent, sparky and, underneath the flashing smile, winningly vulnerable."

"A gifted mimic, Smith brings the subsidiary figures — husband, daughter and feckless friends — to life. Even if Costas, the café owner and lothario, remains a Mediterranean caricature, Smith makes us believe in him."

"The designer Paul Wills has created an inviting replica of a beach, bathed in Lucy Carter’s seductive lighting."

"... the script is occasionally too pat — you can’t quite believe in the story of the snooty schoolfriend who becomes a hooker. Still, Smith’s charm conquers all."

Clive Davis, The Times
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"Sheridan Smith is tremendous in Matthew Dunster’s skilled revival of Willy Russell’s monologue, equal parts uplifting and chilling"

"Now she’s back with a role she could have been born to do.. the hyper-busy Matthew Dunster is on directing duties."

"Surprisingly, though, I found that the aspects of Shirley’s situation that now feel more extreme and alien are what give Matthew Dunster’s revival a real edge. There’s something almost Beckettian about her ritual of tending to Joe’s rigidly unchanging needs; her inability to leave their house in any meaningful form certainly has a dark absurdity..."

"What really makes this revival work, however, is Sheridan Smith. It’s easy to forget what a stupendous actress she is, but wow: she channels both the darkness and the light in Shirley with incredible deftness."

"... this is an expert revival, blessed with a true star performance, alive to every aspect of ‘Shirley Valentine’, from its big heart to its troubled soul."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Financial Times

"Sheridan Smith is a transcendent one-woman Shirley Valentine"

"... it’s Willy Russell’s original 1986 one-woman play we’re dealing with here, so Smith single-handedly commands the stage in a transcendent performance as the disillusioned Liverpool housewife determined to unstick herself from a life glued to the kitchen."

"You can almost feel people leaning forward, drinking in each line, and it’s not just the obvious jokes that bring laughs: Smith is the kind of performer who can have a thousand-odd people in fits purely by mimicking her pretentious neighbour saying “taramasalata”."

"Inevitably, some moments in Russell’s play feel dated... And perhaps Smith seems too sunny and full of life to convey fully the bitterness of some of her lines. Would a woman with this much spirit really be ready to give up on her life halfway through?" But those qualms drop away as Valentine’s transformation begins: Smith radiates joy as she starts to indulge her own long-suppressed appetites, instead of catering to those of others."

"Everything about director Matthew Dunster and designer Paul Wills’ gorgeous staging is pitched between naturalism and too-bright intensity"

Alice Saville, The Financial Times
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Daily Mail

"Sheridan Smith is wall to wall sunshine, a one-woman pina colada with a cocktail umbrella!"

"When the curtain rises on Sheridan Smith’s West End return, it’s as if sunshine breaks across the stage."

"She invests Shirley with the full radiance of her personality, talking to the walls of her fitted kitchen before escaping for a Greek holiday with her friend Jane (whose fella has run off with the milkman)."

"Even as Russell’s play itself lurches into middle age his gags still trip off the tongue."

"... what Smith smashes here is the story’s timeless element of what Shirley calls ‘unused life’ – paths we haven’t taken, regrets we wish we’d had the courage to set right and empty obligations we should’ve shaken off long before. She gives an enormously sweet, touching and vulnerable performance that’s also joyful, powerful and eye-moistening."

"Matthew Dunster’s flawless production and Paul Wills’s warmly glowing design sets her in a kind of azure dream of Mediterranean light"

Patrick Marmion, Daily Mail
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The Stage

"Sheridan Smith is radiantly charming"

"Sheridan Smith reanimates Willy Russell’s well-worn monologue"

"This time around, in an eminently capable production by Matthew Dunster, it’s Sheridan Smith wielding the chip pan and the suntan oil – and she could hardly be more radiantly charming, nor display a defter, more persuasive command of Russell’s blend of sentimentality and wry humour. Yet it just doesn’t feel like quite enough."

"Even allowing for the 1980s context, the more dated attitudes in Russell’s writing jar... Yet the best lines still zing"

"Dunster keeps it all cooking nicely, sometimes literally – we can actually smell the Crisp ’n Dry. And Smith has no trouble winning our hearts. Women like Shirley – working class, middle-aged – are still routinely overlooked, on stage and off... There are fresher ways of telling Shirley’s story. There are better plays than this."

Sam Marlowe, The Stage
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Daily Express

"Sheridan Smith blossoms before our eyes"

"Sheridan Smith and Shirley Valentine go together like egg and chips. Just as well, because Smith spends much of the first half of Willy Russell's 1986 one-woman show preparing that very dish for her husband."

"Her gift of instantaneous audience rapport combined with unimpeachable comic timing wrings every laugh from Russell’s script that spins marital cliches into verbal gold."

"Resisting the impulse to update the play, director Matthew Dunster maintains the attitudes and idiom of the period that may seem outmoded to some. But judging by the vociferous reaction to her observations, Shirley Valentine still lives in the hearts of many women."

Neil Norman, Daily Express
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i News

"Sheridan Smith is a dazzling triumph"

"The star was surely born to play Willy Russell’s chirpy yet downtrodden Liverpudlian wife and mother"

"It is a felicitous moment for theatregoers when we realise that we have come across the perfect pairing of performer and part. Such is the case with Matthew Dunster’s jaunty revival of Willy Russell’s 1986 modern classic, as Sheridan Smith was surely born to play chirpy yet downtrodden Liverpudlian wife and mother Shirley Valentine. Smith, an ebullient performer who positively exudes warmth, has a ball with this one-woman play, greeting the audience with a lovely smile before she starts to speak and welcoming us effortlessly into her everywoman narrative."

"It’s a mighty ask for one performer to power through more than a hundred minutes of solo speaking on a West End stage, but one of Smith’s many triumphs is the way she looks up and around to make every tier of the audience feel so included."

"Smith’s performance is full of ready laughs, but we understand that the tears are always pressing close behind."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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The Sunday Times

"Sheridan Smith is the ultimate leading lady"

"The actress goes beyond star quality as Willy Russell’s liberated Scouse housewife in this timeless show at Duke of York’s Theatre"

"Smith voices all the parts. She is a decent mimic and an experienced theatre performer. But her appeal goes beyond stage skills and it was all there in that puckered nose and the conspiratorial glance she gave the stalls as she said “chips and egg". “Star quality” doesn’t really describe it. Stars exude grandeur. Stars have Joan Collins glamour or Juliet Stevenson intensity or Judi Dench throatiness. Smith has a powerful singing voice (not used here), but her spoken delivery, particularly when doing Scouse, can become plaintive. Fusspots will add that the set wobbles. Never mind that. This show is a middle-brow beaut, the marriage of a timeless script and its near-perfect interpreter."

"Here is a star who obviously approves of her public. During Shirley’s protracted musings about women’s bits, she flashes her eyes at the punters in amused “ooh ’eck” wonder. She is in her bruised-peach prime. Vulnerable. Adorable."

Quentin Letts, The Sunday Times
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The Observer

"Sheridan Smith makes Willy Russell’s midlife monologue her own"

"It is nimble, generous and truly feminist in showing that the diminished life of a housewife means that everyone around her is diminished."

"... the real grip of Matthew Dunster’s production is due to Sheridan Smith. Everyone is immediately on her side."

"She is a surefire hit."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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📷 Main photo: Sheridan Smith in Shirley Valentine at the Duke of York's Theatre. Photo by John Wilson

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