In this essay I will be exploring how Willy Russell, the author of the play
‘Shirley Valentine’, makes us sympathise with his main characters. Russell himself comes from a working class background and was born in Liverpool which is where half the play was set. He started of as a hairdresser and from here he got an insight into women’s life .He started to attend night class on drama and this is where he picked up his love for script writing. After this he began to write comical songs and then he began to write scripts.
His first play ‘Blind Scouse’ was premiered at Edinburgh festival and then in 1990 he wrote ‘Shirley Valentine’. Kitchen sink drama deals with working class people and their everyday lives, and this is related with Shirley as this play deals with her everyday life. Kitchen sink drama relates with ‘Shirley Valentine’ in many aspects and this play may be influenced by kitchen sink drama. Therefore, Russell’s past experiences of him growing up in a feminine household has influenced this play by being the basis of Shirley’s aspects on life. It also concerns working class lives, social problems and relationships.
Willy Russell invite us to feel sympathy for Shirley by portraying her as a person with many hopes and need unrealised. For instance, how she is treated by her husband almost like a slave, how she is treated by her daughter who took her for granted, how she was treated by her intolerant teachers and finally the fact that she was born into a lower class.
I believe that Russell is successful at making his readers feel sorry for her and in doing so he becomes a supporter of female rights.
Russell writes the play with characters trapped in realistic social situation. The title sequence and opening scenes help to establish Shirley’s character, by demonstrating atmosphere background and expressions. Moreover, there is a lot we can deduce from images. Firstly there are sketches in the opening of the film which instinctively grabs the audience’s attention towards the main motif of the film, from the continuous references referred by Shirley’s point of view, to the implication of Shirley’s incompleteness as a person. Similarly, The colour schemes used in the images are blues and purples which symbolises a connotation of sadness and depression, also the colour white indicates plain/ emptiness, these visual devices show a replication of the Shirley’s life as a whole. Shirley has an unsociable life and that builds up to her being a woman with a lack of confidence. Shirley is portrayed as a sad house bound woman, forgotten, not appreciated nonexistent, and a woman with a loss of identity. “A girl is born to fly;” This is shown as a metaphor, as she is supposed to be free but is trapped
Drinking through the day, indicating that she is bored, lonely and doesn’t have a very good social life: “There’s a woman three doors down the road – talks to her microwave! Wall, what’s the world coming to?” When Shirley drinks through the day, it shows that she is really quite depressed and that the alcohol actually took her away from the dull predicament that she was in. This appears to have been quite common in housewives during the 1980s. By 6 o’clock, Shirley’s in the kitchen preparing Joe’s dinner and talking to the wall, “Do you know what i would like to do wall…” This clearly shows that she is desperate and using the wall to replace her absent social life, and perhaps the lack of communication that has now built up between her and her husband.
A married couple painting their kitchen. They are playful and loving. Willy sets the atmosphere as a happy one. Shirley has a high self a steam and she is enjoying herself with Joe. The language used in the first extract is in a rude manor but it’s playful as they are young and happy. He uses words like ‘you little bugger’ and ‘you’re a bloody head case’. Some people may find this offensive but I think it sets a joyful scene. The language is appropriate and funny. Russell uses the swear words to a good quantity, enough to not get too rude and enough to have a laugh about. There is a bit of word play used as well like when Shirley say’s ‘here, Van Gogh’ and Joe replies ‘this is for you moaning Lisa’ this shows that they are young, happy and free.
Willy Russell allow the audience to hear Shirley’s true thoughts. Flashbacks are used to reveal events from her school days and early married life. It is through these techniques that we observe Shirley’s world and transformation. The main titles at the start of the play show the audience the rough outlines of the play. The actual script starts of with fifteen or more drawings of Shirley Valentine doing a series of domestic activities. From here we realize how overlaid and domesticated Shirley’s life is. At the start of the play Shirley is found expressing her thoughts to the wall. This establishes the exact feelings of loneliness “Hello wall” (shown by Shirley talking to the wall) and desperation of someone to talk to. Within the first few pages the audience see Shirley talking to the wall quite frequently so therefore we form the opinion that Shirley and Joe have a lack of communication.
It has become a one sided relationship between them with Joe demanding what he wants. Shirley can still remember though vividly what their relationship used to on holiday with her. Shirley can not imagine going away on holiday on general principles and she can not see herself as being independent. She feels guilty how Joe would cope if she went away for two weeks, leaving all the cooking and cleaning for him to do! Jane eventually convinces Shirley to accompany her on the holiday. Shirley and Jane leave in the day and they get on the plane to leave for Greece. When Joe gets in from work he finds a note attached to a Greek tourist poster pinned on the door saying ‘gone to Greece, be back in two weeks’. The first additional scene takes place at Joe’s work. A medium sized factory with workers in it. Joe walks in front of a moving forklift truck with his head facing the floor and nearly gets run over by it. Travelling to Greece is the way in which Shirley rediscovers herself and becomes truly liberated.
One of the ways in which Russell encourages us to sympathise with Shirley is through the characters that she interacts with.
Shirley’s most dominant feeling through-out the play is that of powerlessness. Joe’s marriage starts off as a good marriage where they are both pleasant to each other and Joe is speaking in a admirable way. This is demonstrated in the play when Shirley has a flashback of her early marriage years, when she and Joe are decorating the house and they end up in the bath together. Joe says to her ” I love you…Shirley Valentine “. The word love is powerfully emotive and also says her name which suggests that he is thinking carefully about who she is. The fact that he loves her as a individual woman. This shows that Joe was kind and loving towards Shirley at the beginning of their marriage. This is what Joe is trying to do in the scene when he uses words from his early marriage. Joe says: “You little bugger.” This shows that Joe is using his head to try to get Shirley to come back.
Her best friend Jane and challenges her reality. Shirley follows her dream “I’d like to drink a glass of wine in a country where the grape is grown. Sittin’ by the sea just sippin’ wine and watching the sun go down.” The audience see Shirley’s character develop. Shirley starts off very unsure of herself but Jane gives her the confidence despite Joe’s criticisms to be independent and make decisions for herself. This is also highlighted when Shirley buys a bikini. “With my stretch marks? I’d get arrested for bringin’ the human form into disrepute.” Before she would not have had the confidence to wear it. Shirley follows her dream. Throughout the play Willy Russell conveys the truths using Shirley’s conversations with the wall and the rock. “Hello wall” and voice-overs. This helps the audience understand Shirley’s character and what she is thinking.
Joe is key to understanding Shirley’s unhappiness as he has lost his sense of fun. This is also supported by Millandra’s unreasonable demands and lack of respect for her mother. When Millandra returns from living away from home, she disregards Shirley’s feelings and claims that her mother should be grateful for her return. She demands her mother to bring the ” Telly upstairs ” and when Shirley comes upstairs with a cup of cocoa Millandra asks her to go down and get another ” spoonful of sugar ” This shows us how she treats her badly as a slave and with no respect.
When Millandra hears that her mother is going to Greece, she is disgusted by the shame that it will bring her. She talks about two middle aged women ” going to Greece on their own “. She analyses that Shirley is doing something wrong. She is used to her mother doing everything for her and has no regard for her needs. This emphasised how many of Shirley’s needs are not met and in turn makes the audience sympathise with her.
Marjorie is an old peer of Shirley from her school days. In Shirley’s eyes Marjorie was very smart, favoured by teachers and had really good grades. She appeared to be very friendly and open minded even though she was of higher class. Shirley always wanted to be like her. When Shirley was at the school she was humiliated by the teacher who said;
” Oh, Shirley, do put your hand down. You couldn’t possibly know the answer “. She felt as if it was an attack on her lower class. She thought that those of higher classes have better start and chances in live. However after many years when she meets her again she realises that she became prostitute. In the 80s the social roles were becoming less fixed. Shirley was still under impression that your class decides who you are. That is why the revelation of Marjorie shocked her. For example ” I just can’t believe it. You. A Hooker. Honest, Marjorie? ” It changes her way of thinking. It makes her aware that anything is possible. The
audience can see that there is hope for her, but at the same time cannot help but feel sorry for her for all those years she has lost.