I always jump at the chance to go to the Chocolate Factory. It is, without a doubt, my favourite theatre in the whole of London. It’s at London Bridge, so I can get home in 15 minutes, it’s only 150 seats so wherever you sit you have a great seat, and it always smells faintly of… you guessed it, chocolate.
So I popped along to see the first part of the Willy Russell season:
RITZI’S REVIEWS : SHIRLEY VALENTINE : THE MENIER CHOCOLATE FACTORY
Some may say that Meera Syal was a strange choice to play Shirley – perhaps it might be seen as controversial casting, like Debbie Allen’s all black Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but from the very moment Syal appeared on stage she slotted into the role so naturally that you might think it had been written for her.
I’m not generally the biggest fan of Northern Belt playwrights; while I can appreciate Russell and his contempory Jim Cartwright, the Northern plight is something that I’ve never really been able to relate to. Because of this, I found it hard to feel much sympathy for Shirley, which is the fault of the play in general, not this production! She’s fallen out of love with her husband who treats her badly, her kids are grown up, she’s bored and lonely… just leave, woman! But of course, it isn’t 2010, and it’s more complicated than that.
Or is it?
The first act’s dialogue pretty much passed me by. Why? Well, I shall tell you. It wasn’t the fact that Syal’s accent slipped from time to time, of the fact that she occasionally dropped her lines, oh no. In fact, I spent most of the first half completely engrosed in the journey of the food.
As a quirky twist, the director (Glen Walford) had Syal preparing the meal of chips and eggs on stage. She peeled and chopped the potatoes, dried them, fried them, and then fried some eggs in a pan. A nice idea, but so distracting! She would chop up maybe three chips and then get distracted, or go to put something in the bin and then go off on a tangent, and the whole time I just wanted her to finish cutting up the damn potatoes and tell me about her marriage afterwards!
The second half, complete with impressive set change, was much better. Her character was much more likeable, and without the distraction of potatoes, the dialogue flowed like a dream.
Shirley Valentine is running as part of the Willy Russell season until the 8th of May at the Menier, alongside a new production of Educating Rita starring Larry Lamb and Laura Dos Santos in the title role. Quite frankly, the schedule completely confuses me, but the link below should connect you to the official website;
The first major revivals for both of these plays since the eighties, they are well worth a watch.
ps, the chips looked bloody good though.