Comments on Tina Packer as "Shirley Valentine"

by Gail M. Burns, May 2009

"This is the transformative power of theatre, based on humanity's ever-present need to tell personal stories of survival and enlightenment.”

– Tina Packer

This is not a review because neither the performance of “Shirley Valentine” starring Tina Packer that I did see at Shakespeare & Company, which was a one-night-only opening gala event for the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre in the summer of 2008, nor this brief run (four performances in May and one in September) scheduled for 2009, were officially open for review. The company believes that the words “Tina Packer” and “Shirley Valentine” together in one sentence will be sufficient to sell tickets. They are right.

“Shirley Valentine” is a heart-warming and hilarious one-woman play about the reawakening of the soul of a middle-aged, long-married, middle-class British housewife and mother. Written by Liverpuddlian Willy Russell, author of “Educating Rita” and “Blood Brothers”, “Shirley Valentine” opened in London’s West End in 1988 and had a six month run on Broadway the following year, where it was nominated for the Tony for Best Play and won the Tony for Best Actress in a Play for Pauline Collins. Collins also played Shirley in the film version, released in 1989.

Shirley Valentine Bradshaw is a chatty soul. She talks to walls and rocks and mostly to you, the audience member, who happen to be privy to her innermost thoughts. In the course of two hours you will learn much about Shirley and her life before and during her marriage to Joe Bradshaw, with whom she has raised a son Brian and a daughter Millandra.

The show covers about two months of Shirley’s life, and takes her from her middle-class kitchen in a two-family house in Manchester, England, where she fries up egg ‘n’ chip for Joe, to the shores of Greece, where she waits table at a taverna. Her decision to accompany her divorced friend Jane to Greece, a decision she doesn’t bother to tell Joe about, and her experiences abroad, change her life and help turn her from hum-drum and disgruntled Shirley Bradsahw back into Shirley Valentine, the exuberant young woman she once was.

Tina Packer is the legendary Founding Artistic Director of Shakespeare & Company. There is not space here to describe her award-winning career acting, directing, writing, and teaching. Most recently, the American Shakespeare Center awarded her the second annual Burbage Award, given for lifetime service to the international Shakespearean theatre community. She has performed “Shirley Valentine” to critical acclaim in the Berkshires before – in 1991 and 1995 as well as last summer’s one-night-stand.

Suffice it to say that any encounter with Tina Packer – inside the theatre or out – will be a memorable experience.

Unlike “Golda’s Balcony” and “The Actors Rehearse the Story of Charlotte Salomon,” the other two one-woman plays in this summer’s “Diva Series,” “Shirley Valentine” is a gentle tale of an ordinary woman. Shirley is not a world leader like Golda Meir, an artist whose life was cut short by Nazi persecution like Charlotte Salomon or an actress bravely trying to bring that suppressed art to life like Penny Krietzer. Women may find the show and the character more accessible than men, but I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying Packer’s feisty rendition of Shirley. Just don’t bring young children as there is frank sex talk.

“Shirley Valentine” will be performed May 27 & 28 and September 11 at 8:30 p.m. and May 30 & 31 at 3 p.m. in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the Kemble Street campus of Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA. Following the May 31 performance Packer will lead a Diva Discussion entitled “We Are All Shirley Valentine” at 5 p.m. in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, Studio 2.

The Bernstein is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. Performances in the evenings run at 8:30 p.m. and in the afternoons at 3:00 p.m. Tickets range from $12 to $48. For a complete listing of productions and schedules, to inquire about student, Senior, Berkshire resident and Rush Tix, or to receive a brochure, please visit the website at or call the Box Office at (413) 637-3353. For group visits, contact Group Sales Manager Victoria Vining at (413) 637-1199 ext. 132. copyright Gail M. Burns, 2009

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