The Barn Theatre, Southwick Community Centre.
January 26, 27, 28 & 29, 2005.
by Willy Russell
Kate Brownings – Shirley
Lighting Design – Mike Medway
Lighting Technician – Janice Gooch
Sound & Projection – Murray Hall
Technical Manager – John Garland
Technical Manager – David Bickers
Stage Manager – David Comber
Stage Manager – Robert Mitchell
ASM – Nikki Dunsford, Tony Brownings
Design & Graphics – Judith Berrill
Properties – Sue Whittaker
Properties – Margaret Davy
Workshop Team – Mike Davy
Workshop Team – David Comber
Workshop Team – Robert Mitchell
Publicity – Rosemary Bouchy
Publicity – Rosemary Brown
Publicity – Simon Druce
Box Office – Margaret Murrell
Front of House Co-ordinator – Betty Dawes
Programme Note #1: Shirley Valentine
BR wrote: “Willy Russell has a reputation for writing great character parts for women, including his notable early success with Educating Rita. But in many ways Shirley Valentine, which opened on the London stage in 1988, shows his writing at its best. The 1990 film version, with Pauline Collins transferring the rôle from stage to screen, was a popular triumph [it had big box office sakes and several Oscar nominations] but the original stage version is a real masterpiece for a solo performer. Kate Brownings, working with a skilful technical team from all departments of the Wick Theatre Company, brings to life the whole kaleidoscope of humour, exuberance and pathos that makes up the wonderfully believable character created by Willy Russell.
Kate Brownings is no stranger to Russell’s work, having appeared as Rita back in 1982 and having directed three other Russell plays since then. In a strange echo of Shirley Valentine’s own experience, Kate’s first ever stage appearance was in a doomed school nativity play. After moving to Sussex, she took to the stage again in The Big Bad Mouse, where she met husband-to-be Tony, now Chairman of Wick Theatre Company. She first worked with director Bob Ryder in Death and the Maiden  and the in her Barn debut in Arcadia . They also appeared together in the two acting rôles in Wick’s memorable 2002 production of the thriller, Misery.”
Review #1: Shirley Valentine
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Jeremy Malies
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Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine is best known for a film adaptation with a large cast, including Pauline Collins, Tom Conti and Joanna Lumley. It might come as a surprise to learn that the original stage play is a one-hander, with the heroine impersonating all the other characters and punctuating her monologues by talking to inanimate objects.
The play was presented at Southwick’s Barn Theatre last week, by the Wick Theatre Company, with Katie Brownings playing Shirley. The production is an outstanding tour de force in which Brownings proved funny, daring and inventive. The part has about 16,000 words – more than Hamlet – and calls on all the resources an actress can muster, even to the point of requiring her to cook her absent husband’s supper in a fully functional kitchen. Brownings’ timing with this was immaculate as it was throughout the evening.
Shirley’s first moment of self-awareness is the realisation that ‘most of us die long before we’re dead’. Having decided to leave her family and spend two weeks on a Greek island, she falls in love not with her local seducer but with herself. As this process took hold, Brownings conjured up a wonderful radiance, her character becoming an invigorating counterpoint to the drabness of her surroundings. There were moments in Act ll when she invested Russell’s elegiac dialogue with the quality of verse.
Reception on the opening might was ecstatic. Bob Ryder’s uncluttered direction was performed on the floor of the theatre, making no use of the main stage. His interpretation showed a gossamer touch and drew out a performance that will remain with all who saw it for a long time. Such was the breadth of Brownings’ presence and the facility with which she mimicked accents including Liverpudlian, Greek and Mancunian, myself and a fellow passenger on the bus back to Brighton could scarcely come to terms with the fact that we had seen a one-woman show.
Review #2: Shirley Valentine
Publication: Brighton Argus
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Barrie Jerram
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Willy Russell’s play is probably best known to audiences through its transfer to the cinema screen but it will come as a huge surprise to those seeing the play for the first time that it is really a monologue. The performance lies solely in the hands of one actress, who has to hold the attention of the audience for the entire play. Whereas the film opened up the play and used other actors, the Shirley Valentine of the stage has to be skilful enough to bring to life all the other characters she talks about.
Written in 1988, the play is about the self-discovery of a frustrated working-class Liverpudlian and her break for freedom from the shackles of a marriage gone stale. The first act is set in the kitchen of her home where she converses with the walls and the second is on the beach of a Greek island where her conversational partner is a large rock. The play is beautifully written, with Russell, as he did with Educating Rita, getting inside the head of a woman and bringing out all her frustrations and emotions. The text fairly crackles with witty lines as well as moments of wistful tenderness.
It takes an exceptional and versatile actress to take on the marathon task of holding the evening together and to do full justice to the part. Fortunately, Kate Brownings is such an actress. She successfully manages to capture every nuance of this outwardly simple yet inwardly complex character, both in her speech and through body movement. One moment she has you aching with laughter and the next just aching as you share her pain. Brownings even manages to convey a physical change in the character when she achieves her freedom in Greece. Her body is radiant as the liberated girl of her youth emerges from the middle-aged woman.
Although this is a one-woman show, it has to be acknowledged that behind the evening’s success was a technical team led by the director, Bob Ryder. He must take credit for extracting such a wonderful performance.
Review #3: Shirley Valentine
Publication: Words & Music
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Gordon Bull
This brilliant solo performance, taking a peep at several of the characters which swim across our lives, is through the eyes of a 42-year-old housewife bored with the daily round. Willy Russell [Educating Rita and Blood Brothers] once more captures a slice of real life in his superbly funny but pathetic script. Katie Brownings’ depiction was a masterpiece.
The production team was most supportive, with good lighting, excellent back-shots and sets. Amazing on-stage cooking had my tongue hanging out as the frying of eggs-and-chips suffused the atmosphere in Act l. Superb timing meant that Brownings was able to deliver her lines, crack open an egg, slice the potatoes, etc, and then, apparently oblivious of the fact that the chip-pan might go up in smoke at any moment, return exactly on time to dish up. [It meant the behind-the-scenes team were no doubt able to enjoy an unusual repast in the interval.]
Simple but most effective were the kitchen props and later the beach scene with projected wavelets.