How does Shirley change in the course of the play, and how is the play organised to show the importance of these changes?
The talented Liverpool play writer Willy Russell wrote Shirley Valentine the popular contemporary play. Shirley Valentine was originally a dramatic solo monologue performed by Pauline Collins and uses many of the devices form the solo version. This essay analyses the changes in the life of the central female character. You see a frustrated, stereo typical, middle-aged woman who is emancipated from the kitchen sink and determined to achieve the childhood dreams she didn’t fulfil in the early part of her life. In this voyage we see Shirley’s life as she sees it and follow her story as she tells it. The author focuses on her past, present and future and in doing so, explores her relationship with other characters and the situations using devices such as flashback, which ultimately lead to her changes.
Willy Russell’s use of cinematic devices give the audience insight into Shirley’s mind and her feelings. Other devices used are different types of comedy e.g. irony. Voice-overs are also types of devices Willy Russell uses where by characters talk over another scene or over lay it. Voice-overs and voice to camera are used since everything Shirley says is being reported. What she reports is the truth, but not the literal truth. The audience would feel sympathy for Shirley as of this fact.
Before the film begins we are shown the opening credits, which present several simple pictures of Shirley doing domestic activities including: cooking, cleaning, gardening, shopping, making beds and ironing. This reinforces the audience to image her as a typical housewife. During these images a depressing and sad soundtrack, which creates a calm, lonely mood, overlies on the pictures. Some of the lyrics may suggest that Shirley has lost herself and speaks about losing your identity. The combined effect of these devices introduces to the key themes of the play and creates a suitable depressing and hopeless atmosphere to compliment the mood of the opening section. By looking at the opening credits, lyrics and soundtrack it makes us think the film will be about a bored housewife who has a life of wasted opportunities littering behind her.
The film opens with several devices intended by Willy Russell, to reflect Shirley’s state of mind. The first of the devices is weather. The exterior setting is cloudy, grey and creates a miserable atmosphere. We see Shirley walking down the street towards her semi-detached house and turning up a pathway into her home. This sounds cosy but not spectacular.
During the opening sector of the screenplay, we are introduced to several of the important themes and character that will dominate our perception of Shirley’s character. We are shown this when she enters her home carrying shopping bags. Which stereotypes a typical housewife. She then turns towards her only companion, the wall and says “Hello Wall”. This device does not only make the audience feel sympathy for her but informs the audience of her loneliness and depression. It also highlights that she appears stereo typical and that there is more than just her ordinary role as a housewife. As Shirley is being very honest it makes her more likeable.
Willy Russell uses certain devices to help the audience get to know Shirley better. Dramatic monologue is a device that enables the audience to empathise with Shirley’s situation. In addition to this Shirley delivers her lines straight to the camera and this again helps the audience to empathise with her feelings as if we have insight into her private thoughts and feelings. “Well what’s wrong with that”. One device used straight away is irony as Shirley says, “Talkin’ to a microwave (to WALL) Wall what’s the world comin’ to”. She is kind of being sarcastic here as she talks to the wall herself, which makes us think she does not like the idea that others talk to their objects.
Throughout the play, Russell employs flashback and voiceover techniques to explore previous significant moments in Shirley’s past. A key use is the examination of Shirley’s marriage. We see Shirley in a different light when it comes to her present relationship with Joe. Flashbacks present to us the change in Shirley’s lifestyle, how she used to live with Joe and how it’s changed from the present day. Flashbacks also create poignancy as it emphasises the idea of regret.
In the beginning of the play we see that Shirley’s only friend at the moment is Gillian who is introduced straight after Shirley so that the audience can see the differences between the two. Gillian who can be very patronising, unlike able and snobby is the total opposite compared to Shirley. Gillian makes Shirley feel stupid and inadequate. The flashback (in scene 4 in Shirley’s hall and front door) when Gillian says, “Oh, hello, Shirley. It appears that your bell is not working. Do you think there’s something wrong with it?”, is a perfect example of this, as she state the obvious.
There are times when Shirley is not what we expect her to be. This is shown in the flashback when Shirley is at Gillian’s house with Claymore the bloodhound. What we see here is that Shirley totally ignored the fact that Claymore needed to be fed, “muesli with about half a pint of milk”, but instead she fed him meat even though Gillian had not had meat in the house for years. This emphasises that Shirley did what she thought was the right thing to do. To the audience it would be like Shirley has gone behind Gillian’s back and has changed something Gillian may have not wanted to change. It also shows Shirley as being a person you would not entirely trust.
The decline of Shirley and Joe’s marriage is shown in certain ways and is traceable through the flashback of Shirley in her 20s, 30s to the present. It shows how her life has changed since these times.
When we do meet Joe he treats Shirley like she is a nutcase. “He used to love me because I was a nutcase. Now he just thinks I am a nutcase.”
The facial impression given on Joe’s face shows his mood and the humble fact that he doesn’t smile anymore. “He used to laugh, Joe. We both did.” Her conviction has alliterated towards Joe and it appears like she feels restricted to experience new things.
“I’m not saying his bad my feller, he’s just no bleeding good.”
Willy Russell takes advantage of flashbacks at this characteristic to let us explore their earlier marriage. The flashback reveals to us that there was a lot of affection shared between her and Joe. In scene 15 (page 12), we see the happier times in Shirley and Joe’s marriage. Russell illustrates this by showing a flashback, which goes back to the time when Shirley and Joe are painting in the kitchen. We learn from this scene that they once used to love and have interests or feelings for each other.
The reason Joe loved her is because she was a bit crazy and they had their laughs and jokes here. Joe didn’t take anything seriously including himself. He took Shirley for what she was and was also being playful. This is shown in the stage direction, when he lifted his brush full of paint, but instead of painting Shirley, he slams the brush over his own head, face and overalls. We are also shown Shirley and Joe sharing an intimate bath together, and their love still alive. “I love you…. Shirley Valentine.”
The relationship between Shirley and Joe began well, but if you compare this flashback to the scene after this it contrasts sharply as Russell enabled us to immediately see a difference between the previous time in her marriage and her current situation with Joe by following the flashback by a scene in this way. The scene highlights the happiness they had in their lives and the fact that it has all gone now. The audience are able to see what Joe is like here. He wants what he wants when he wants which shows he is demanding. “…. Get on with getting me tea”. He doesn’t like the fact Shirley talks to the wall. “Who the bloody hell are you talkin’ to?” This proves he has no respect and he does not understand her anymore. This shows what has become of Shirley’s marriage. A quote that reveals, “Marriage is like the Middle East. There’s no solution.”, gives the audience a better understanding of how she feels about the marriage at the present time.
After the flashback when it goes back to the time, when Shirley and her mates were at the pub chatting and making jokes about, “the Clitoris”, Shirley mentioned it to Joe but he didn’t take any notice of it and said, “it doesn’t go as well as the Ford Cortina”. We learn from this that Joe is ignorant about sex and that Shirley has no idea on what to do to put things right. Here, although the marriage was beginning to lose spice at least she could laugh about it. The “chips an’ egg”, incident caused further declining of Shirley and Joe’s marriage. This scene emphasises that it was Joe’s fault that their marriage was breaking apart. It would not have been like this if for once Joe did something others wanted him to do. “I’m not eatin’ this. I am not eatin’ shite!”
He never understood Shirley and in the end he had gone to far. In doing so he pushed her away. You get the impression that she sees it as a disaster zone, always arguing and fighting and no escape. Voiceovers and camera close ups play an important technique, to give the audience once again a visual and verbal impression of her feelings and mood.
During the middle section of the screenplay there is scenes were Joe is dominating towards Shirley and is raising his voice to instruct her that she isn’t going to Greece. “I am not going to no Greece.”
Shirley’s interior thoughts that are probably she has to escape from the repulsive lifestyle she lives. At this section of the scene Joe’s facial expression is very powerful and determined. He is pointing his finger at Shirley as if to say, “you wouldn’t dare.” It reveals a lack of respect towards Shirley. The fact that Shirley hasn’t broken down yet, unlike her marriage, presents that going to Greece plays an important part in Shirley’s life.
The screenplay is divided to indicate more bad points about Shirley’s marriage then good. This is done to emphasis the breakdown of communication of the marriage, and this device also encourages the audience to empathise with Shirley as a character.
In between the flashbacks, one is also able to view the change that has accrued in Shirley in the early parts of her life. As a teenager Shirley was full of life and dreams. Even thought she comes across impulsive and a rebel against her authority. She puts on an act to cover the real her. “I became a rebel.”
The screenplay enfolds that Shirley headmistress played an important part in Shirley’s life. The lack of confidence towards Shirley changes her perspective of school and started viewing things in a different angle. “O’, Shirley do put your hand down. You couldn’t possible know the answer.” This is an example on what caused to transform her opinion. It reveals that she is interested in school but isn’t given the chance to prove herself by her headmistress, who doesn’t have much faith in her.
As you start to see the dissimilarity in her attitude you can see the same in her costume. This is another dramatic device used by Willy Russell. “…Skirt so high you would’ve that it was serviette!” This highlights her adventurous and defiant side although the voiceover reveals that even thought she appears cool and confident, no one really understood how she felt about herself. “But I didn’t really hate anything. The only thing I hated was me!” This is linked into her relationship with Marjorie, and reinforces our view of her low self-esteem. Shirley adopts the role of a bully but it’s no intended to be spiteful but is a reaction of her own feelings of jealousy towards Marjorie. “…. I suppose I really wanted be like her.” Shirley wasn’t a model pupil at school. “Shrugs and drags on her cigarette.” This attitude reveals how she felt the fact that her dreams were shattered by the dismissive and belittling attitude of her headmistress. The alternate figures in her life do not give Shirley the confidence to live up to high expectation and making her feel like a loser. “…Given your marks in Geography, you’ll truly get lost” we see Shirley’s exasperated side and frustration being taken out. “Well, tickle my tits till Friday!” shows her disappointment in herself as well.
When Shirley’s friend Jane gains two tickets to Greece, Shirley desire is to go because she wants to prove to herself and her past, she can fulfil her dreams.
“I’d like to drink a glass of wine in a country where the grape is grown!” This proposes that she still has hopes and dreams and wants to achieve some thing for herself.
Her decision to except the tickets to go to Greece is prompted by Gillian’s boost to her confidence by conducting her beliefs in Shirley. “I think you’re marvellous”
In Gillian’s eyes Shirley was, “no longer Shirley Bradshaw- middle- aged housewife”.
This is an important aspect of the scene, the reason for this is moments before, we had seen Shirley’s daughter’s cutting objection to her mother’s determination to travel. Millandra’s objection is made to make Shirley feel ridiculous and selfish.
“Greece! At you age! You and that Jane. It’s obscene.”
Momentarily, Shirley’s dramatically significant as it gives Shirley the chance to view herself positively and also Gillian’s character is important, as the audience already knows her to be judgemental and patronising. This together illustrates the importance of why Shirley’s final decision was to go to Greece.
Another key element that is used is dramatic device, is the weather. It has a significant role in this section of the play as it reflects Shirley’s mood and feelings. The camera direction gives us an open view of people swimming and playing joyfully in the sea. This is effective way to reveal Shirley’s more optimistic frame of mind.
Her costume exposes her confidence once again, just like the old Shirley Valentine and not Shirley Bradshaw. This signifies her confident, relaxed, independent and the sociable nature. The quote, “I love it here” uncovers that she’s happy and has adapted to the Greek lifestyle instantly. How ever at first Shirley still reinforced back into her old habits from her life in Liverpool.
Her loneliness “Don’t I rock?” importantly, despite her initial feelings of isolation, she not acting like a victim. You gradually start to see her bad habits fading away, as she starts to build back her ego. “I’m an expert at it. And then I started to relax”
Later down the screenplay Shirley’s dream of sipping a wine of glass of wine and watching the sun go down comes true. She realises she felt disappointed and the one moment in her life were she thought she could mend her feelings of unhappiness dissolved into the atmosphere. “I don’t feel at all lovely an serene! I feel pretty daft actually.”
In Greece, Willy Russell introduces new characters to show us the different sides of Shirley. The main English characters are Doggie and Jeanette. They are portrayed as typical, judgemental tourists. “There’s more life in a crematorium.”
When Shirley meets Costas, she begins to feel like Shirley Valentine once again. She opens her body and mind to Costas and lets herself enjoy the new experiences she encounters. Which reveals an adventures side of Shirley. She decides not to go back to her dull lifestyle in Liverpool. This gives you a better understanding on how she is really feeling about her situation and has more self-esteem about herself then she’s ever had in a lifetime. She relates to Costas well and finds it much easier to communicate with him even thought he’s a complete stranger. It’s probably due to the fact that she feels comfortable around him, and he isn’t short on compliments “You are a beautiful woman” Shirley feels attractive and desirable, but doesn’t fall in love with him.
“I’ve fallen in love with the idea of living.” Willy Russell uses the word ‘living’, which emphasise the point that she didn’t feel as live as she does now.
The rapid cutting between scenes shows us Shirley’s busy lifestyle in Greece while we see a phone call with Joe. This is done so the audience can see the difference in lifestyles that can be led by her.
Shirley Valentine is an example of Kitchen Sink Drama. It is a term applied in the late 1950s, which portrayed working class or lower, middle class life with an emphasis on domestic realism. Shirley Valentine leans upon the traditions of it but has been adapted for a modern audience in that Shirley does find some fulfilment at the end of the play. The reason why Shirley Valentine is a Kitchen Sink Drama is because she herself is a working class woman doing all the domestic jobs around the house. She is always in the kitchen or by the kitchen sink and this was shown to us straight away as Shirley was introduced to us in the kitchen. Another reason is that she has not yet fulfilled her dreams or ambitions and is trapped in realistic social situations meaning her marriage. Russell uses convections of K.S.D to highlight Shirley’s character change. Other examples of K.S.D are “Look back at Anger” and “A Taste of Honey”.
The main changes, which took place in Shirley as a character was that, she adapted extremely well to her new lifestyle. Which reveals to us that she is adaptable to new situations. Meanwhile in Greece she captures her true identity by self-contentment and self-discovery “always Shirley Valentine” which gives her more confidence to acquires equality in her marriage. This essay analysed how Shirley changed during the screenplay and the way the dramatic devices were organised to reveal the important changes, which changed our views immediately to give us a better understanding of her character.