Shirley Bradshaw the main character in the play is a housewife in a working class environment. Unable to stand the monotonous lifestyle she is forced to live in she embarks on a journey to rediscover herself. She does this by going to Greece, searching for a new life and adventure. Willy Russell uses dramatic techniques to symbolise the importance of Shirley’s transformation. He uses devices such as voiceovers, flashbacks, dramatic monologue and humour these help portray Shirley’s opinions, beliefs and it also helps by finding her aspiration. By the end of the screen play the audience will see Shirley as a woman who has fulfilled her dreams and achievement as she no longer will be the depressed dutiful house wife.
Similarly Willy Russell was born into a working class family like Shirley. He was born in Liverpool in the year 1974. He left school at the age of fifteen much like the character of Shirley, who also left school early because she had no hopes in her academic career. This may have been due to stereotypical views that came with living in Liverpool in the 1960s especially for working class people. Another reason can be that students from working class families were not encouraged to pursue their academic careers. Russell had an opportunity to learn about the lives of working class women during this period as it aided him in writing his plays; he knew what was happening in everyday life and what went on in the lives of working class women as well. Following this he did a variety of jobs, including stacking stockings in the warehouse; this is probably why he portrays the working class family simply as helpless victims. By the time he was twenty he wanted to become a poet and eventually went on to become a play write.
Russell wrote the screenplay in 1989, the genre that ‘Shirley Valentine’ belongs to is kitchen sink drama. Kitchen sink drama is straight-laced realism with a focus on working-class life, social problems and relationships. In the screenplay these problems are emphasised in Shirley’s life. Furthermore, Russell takes the idea of kitchen sink drama in the first scene because Shirley’s peeling potatoes in the kitchen. Moreover, women are usually seen as victims because of their fragility and as they are women they are automatically associated with household chores, for they are the nurturing parent.
In ‘Shirley Valentine’ Russell has subverted a woman’s role as a protagonist emphasising the importance of women and conveying them as breadwinners instead of housewives. Russell uses a variety of dramatic techniques in the opening credits in order to establish Shirley’s character and to engage the audience. He does this by the use of diegetic and non-dietetic sounds. In the title sequence use of diegetic sounds such as the background anthem, ‘…A girl who used to be me she could fly she was free…’ implies Shirley’s transformation, also the tone of the ballad is regretful and sad. The lyrics also evoke how Shirley was once free and independent and has now obviously changed.
This also suggests that the protagonist was able to achieve more but wasn’t encouraged enough in her early life. The use of editing and camera work portrays Shirley’s dull lifestyle and the sequence of drawings showing Shirley doing varieties of domestic activities also conveys the tedious atmosphere. Her life is illustrated in a series of drawings, which indicate her unfulfilled dreams and wishes. The rear scene is very dreary and blue; this reinforces her monotonous life and her misery. The sketches then dissolve into a long shot of Shirley carrying shopping bags and walking along a dull and gloomy suburban street, further conveying her mundane life.
As Shirley first enters her semi-detached house she is established in a mid shot, this immediately implies her working class status because of the setting, which is a claustrophobic house. As she walks inside the passage into the kitchen, putting her shopping on the table, she turns away to talk to the wall. This first scene is set in the kitchen, which is hinting at the kitchen sink drama, as if she is trapped and the kitchen is her jail.
Straight away she engages in a humorous dialogue with the wall, ‘Hello wall.’ This dramatic monologue implies to the viewers that she’s alone for her only company is the kitchen wall; this also suggests her desperation for some company. Suddenly, turning to the camera she talks to her self, engaging the audience in conversation, which makes them, feel more involved and a part of the play. In her monologue Shirley refers to her husband, e.g. ‘Oh God! …What will he be like, eh wall? My feller? What will he be like when he finds out he’s only gettin’ chips an’ egg for tea?’ this creates dramatic tension because the audience have not yet meet Shirley’s husband and their relationship hasn’t been defined. This also implies her lack of control in her life for she is stuck at home and her main goal is to please her husband.
The orientation of the play is arranged in flash backs to convey Shirley’s transformation clearly. This is shown in the flashbacks, when she was young and she was moving into their house with Joe “Shirley dips her brush in her can of paint and flicks it up at Joe” suggesting that “Shirley” was playful and enjoyed life to its fullest with her husband Joe.Then Shirley is seen in a pub with her friends in her thirties; these are shown as stories of parts of her life. Russell shows Shirley as she talks to the wall, she expresses all her emotions and feelings to it, she treats it as if it’s a person, which amplifies her loneliness. The flashback technique is uses to make the audience empathise with Shirley’s situation.
‘They’re fascinated by sex. Well, I suppose I’d have been the same if I’d been born in their generation… mind you it was different in my days.’ This quote shows Shirley’s fascination in sex and her desire for more in hers and Joe’s sex life. Also it shows her longing for her young life. The decline of their marriage is easily traceable through the flashback of Shirley from her thirties talking about sex to her friends as she speaks to the camera very humorously, ‘Joe I said, have you ever heard of clitoris? He didn’t even look up from his paper, yah he said, ‘but it doesn’t go as well as the ford cortina.’ This shocking little joke reinforces Shirley’s unhappiness in her sex life. Shirley and Joe’s lack of sex life in their relationship portrays their gap in communication, which shows their relationship to be dreary and mundane.
As the flashbacks end, she begins to cut the potatoes, as she does so she looks at the wall and says ‘I do miss them the kids…don’t I wall? There’s only me an’ him now…well, he walked in one night with a smile on his face an’ I didn’t recognise him…’ this shows her need for company once the children were gone and the distance in their relationship. This is because looking after the kids made both of them busy with their every day life that they had less time for each other. Shirley and Joe’s life have been wrecked and their relationship has fallen apart. ‘Remember that wall? He used to love me because I was a nutcase.’
This quote suggests there past relationship, the fact that Joe loved Shirley for her ‘nuttiness’ showed how deeply in love with each other they were, but as time went by, their relationship became a compromise. Russell then goes back to show the flash back of Shirley in her twenties as she and Joe have just moved into the house. The flashback shows their relationship in the beginning, their love and happiness being together, Joe used to express his feelings for Shirley, ‘I love you…Shirley Valentine’, this shows the great distance that has formed in their relationship, how their children and Joe’s work has become more important than their love for each other.
Through out the flashbacks the audience is also able to view the changes that have occurred in Shirley since she was a teenager. Young Shirley had low self-esteem as her teachers often put her down. They had no hopes in her achievement because they thought she had no academic future ahead of her and that she wouldn’t be able to achieve anything as she was from a working class family. This is one of the reasons Shirley had left her academic career at such a young age as no one had expectations from her and never encouraged her. This may be the same reason for Willy Russell leaving school at an early age.
During the time when Russell was in school and when the screen play was written, people often stereotyped working class families of being underachievers because they didn’t have as much money as others. An example of this is in the screenplay as Shirley’s teachers have low expectancies of Shirley. ‘The headmistress with rage pointing a shaking finger at young Shirley …someone must have told you’ this shows that they underestimated Shirley’s potential and gradually forced her to leave school and give up her education. However, students such as Marjorie were favoured and given more encouragement, because of their status, and the fact that she’d had elocution lessons, just shows how Prejudice people were.
As a teenager Shirley was a vicious rebel, ‘young Shirley shrugs and drags on her cigarette,’ suggesting that she wasn’t a model pupil, breaking school rules by smoking and other things like she was also a bully. She bullied Marjorie for being a teacher’s pet, but deep inside she ‘really wanted to be like her.’ This implies to the audience that from an early age she wanted to be someone of value that people looked up to as their role model by doing well in her studies, but she had low self esteem which made her take a different path to her life. Shirley bullied Marjorie by pointing a knife at her and saying ‘I can damage your health.’ This indicates that Shirley was jealous of Marjorie as she envied the way she was.
It was ironic when Shirley found out that her role model Marjorie turned out to be high-class hooker, and the fact that Marjorie wanted to be like Shirley. As an adult Shirley shows only a small amount of the assertiveness then what she had as a teenager, being alone and forced to become a stereotypical housewife has sucked out her rebellious and lively nature. This shows a dramatic change of Shirley’s life from a teenager to an adult. She is a more dull and responsible person due to having to look after her two children and becoming lonesome each day.
By taking the decision to go to Greece it shows that Shirley wants to change to become content, so that she no longer has any problems, this has been her wish since childhood wanting to go on a voyage around the world, but it was never fulfilled because since she found Joe she hadn’t got the chance to travel the world. You can see this by what Joe says to her suggestion, ‘Well, I’m telling you now, you can forget it…’This directly addresses to the spectators that Joe was taking control over Shirley’s life as she was not entitled to have a break. The reason why Shirley wanted to Greece is because she wanted to explore the world and have a taste of different cultures. Also because she wanted to achieve her dream and get away from her depressing life.
Russell contrasts the settings in Liverpool and in Greece. This emphasises and depicts the contrast in her emotions in the different places. An example; like the weather in Liverpool Shirley’s life is also sluggish and drowsy. As she steps into the hot ground of Greece she is totally transformed. Like the weather in Greece she too has changed, as she looks very attractive even in her 40’s because Costas was very fond of her. Shirley transformed herself as she changed back to her maiden name ‘Shirley Valentine’. This shows dramatic change in her attitude as she is going back to being the rebellious Shirley Valentine, and manages to find a purpose of a new life in less then two weeks. By changing her life Shirley becomes friendlier as she makes new friends like Costas as he becomes part of her life. She also becomes more confident, exuberant and vibrant.
Shirley found it very difficult to cope with her surroundings when she first arrived in Greece. She was used to being lonesome instead of being surrounded by people. Shirley found herself a quiet place in the beach and was apparently talking to the rock. Even though she was alone she found it found it very relaxing ‘I hardly recognise meself these days… I love it here.’ This shows that Shirley is having fun even though she’s alone because she’s free. However, the fact that she’s now talking to the rock shows that she’s still deserted. Suddenly, she found herself a new life with Costas, as he made her feel special; he says ‘Tonight, I make someone’s dream come true.’ The audience may feel that Costas is going is to be a significant part of her life. It seems Shirley also has a soft feeling for Costas because he asks her to go around the island with him and she agrees. During this trip both Shirley and Costas get into mischief as they get sexually attracted to each other.
This scene in the screen play tells us that Shirley likes Costas because she wouldn’t get physically attracted with him if she didn’t like him. From Shirley’s behaviour towards Costas there is a sense that Shirley likes Costas because he acts like Joe when they were first married and likes her the way she is as he ‘kissed’ Shirley’s ‘Stretch marks’. After having so much fun with Costas it’s time for Shirley to go back to the dull and depressing Liverpool. One of the reasons Shirley chose to stay in Greece is because she liked the idea of being free and explore the fun of life. Shirley feels that if she goes back to Liverpool ‘…who would care… they wouldn’t really miss me…’ implies that Shirley really doesn’t want to go back, as she likes the idea of living in Greece. She feels life for her in Liverpool is a waste as no one cares about her. Also in she doesn’t have to be highly committed to something like her being a housewife.
Shirley has changed so that her life is no longer dull and meaningless, a ‘change in life’ has occurred, her attitudes and actions have also changed, like the ballad from the title sequence Shirley has transformed into a butterfly. Also now that Joe has joined her in Greece, the audience are left to wonder what would happen in the end, but there is a sense of calm and that there is a happy ending. For Shirley has given Joe a second chance and they are starting a new life. The fact that Joe can’t recognise Shirley anymore because she’s changed so much shows the drift in their relationship they have to work on. Moreover, it indicates how much Shirley has changed as she is unrecognisable, even to her own husband. But the calm sunset implies fulfilment on Shirley’s behalf. Also at the end Shirley once more is the Shirley Valentine that she lost touch with, after she got married.
In conclusion Shirley’s Bradshaw’s transformation is huge as she changes her life from being a monotonous like the British weather into someone who is full of energy and optimistic like the bright sunny weather in Greece. By the end of the novel we see that Shirley is more amusing, entertaining and like the old Shirley valentine we used to know in the past. To bring this great change in her life many people were involved these include coasts, Gillian and Joe played a great part. The dramatic techniques used such as monologue, voice over and flash backs helps us to understand more about Shirley’s feelings and desires as she directly addresses her thoughts to the audience. These forms of techniques help us to understand Shirley better as she pours out her cries and happiness.