Dramatic Techniques in Shirley Valentine by Willy Russell

Dramatic Techniques in Shirley Valentine by Willy Russell

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Dramatic Techniques in Shirley Valentine by Willy Russell

How do the dramatic techniques use in the play help the audience to
understand the importance of Shirley’s transformation? You should refer
to the significance of the play’s social and historical (settings,
attitudes to women

SHIRLEY VALENTINE

Task: How do the dramatic techniques use in the play help the audience
to understand the importance of Shirley’s transformation? You should
refer to the significance of the play’s social and historical
(settings, attitudes to women, attitudes to marriage, expectations of
life, etc) context and the literary context (kitchen-sink drama,
comedy, tragedy, drama, etc).

The play ‘Shirley Valentine’ was written by Willy Russell. Russell was
born in 1976, near Liverpool. He left school when he was fifteen and
did a variety of jobs before becoming a writer. Originally he used to
be a songwriter, performing in his late teens. By the time he was
twenty he decided to become a playwright rather than his desired
option of teaching. In his first eighteen months schools loved his
work and he decided that he was successful enough to do it fulltime.

“Shirley Valentine”, is the story of a middle age woman living in
Liverpool and her change in life. Russell explores the usage of
different dramatic techniques to tell a complex story. We the audience
are in contact with Shirley from the beginning, because she talks to
the camera. This forms a friendship between Shirley and the audience.
We become her confidante. Other dramatic techniques used by the
playwright are the use of Flashbacks and Voiceovers. In flashbacks
Shirley would be doing something and would drift off talking about
something that had happened earlier on in the day or a previous day,
so we would get all the background information, on what has been going
on. It also highlights the important events in her life to show us how
she got to this point in her life. In Voiceovers Shirley would express
her true feelings about someone whilst they would be talking about the
thing that Shirley is expressing her feelings about.

The opening credits depict a series of fifteen sketches that show
Shirley doing her everyday routine of domestic chores, with no
enthusiasm. Shirley if cleaning and cooking, this tells us what her
life is like, boring. You could see that she is tired of living out
her life in an ordinary marriage, with very little going on, she has
all this Unfulfilled Potential which she desperately wants to
overturn. The words of the soundtrack are very cleverly adapted to the
sketches shown. They tell the everyday life story of a woman that has

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ended up in a place where she does not want to be. A woman who has so
much unused ability, and whose ‘dreams’ have stayed as just ‘dreams’,
“when dreams were broken”. This shows that Shirley is just another one
of those typical middle-aged women anxious to get out ‘there’.

The film opens with Shirley returning from her regular, daily shopping
trip from the shops, which fits, into part of her daily, reoccurring
life. Shirley walks into her kitchen and shuts the door then sighs.
Shirley then places her shopping bags on the kitchen table and starts
a conversation with her kitchen wall. This shows how fatigued Shirley
is of her daily routine and that she wants to ‘break out’ of this
strenuous routine and be adventurous. We also come to the conclusion
that Shirley Valentine is a lonely person because she is talking to
the kitchen wall, even though she is married. We understand this when
Shirley says “Hello Wall”. The playwright uses dramatic monologues to
enable the audience to understand why she does this and also to make
us feel sympathetically for her.

The play is organised into Flashbacks so that the audience can grasp
what Shirley’s life was like and to help us identify why she made her
decisions. Russell uses flashbacks to help the audience relate to
Shirley. As an involved narrator Shirley tells us her story. In this
way the audience is able to learn more about Shirley as a person and
know why she does what she does in a positive manner. In the
flashbacks we see when Shirley and Joe were both joyful together and
then when they started to quarrel like how conventional married
couples do. The decline of Joe and Shirley’s marriage is easily
traceable through the Flashbacks of Shirley her twenties, thirties and
up to the present. We see that Shirley and Joe’s relationship wasn’t
always so dull and bland. We see Shirley and Joe in 1965, when they
are newly married. They are both happily painting their kitchen wall,
while having a discussion. Whilst painting the wall they start having
a romantic paint fight. This is an example of Russell using visual
humour. The quotes, “You’re a bloody head case! You . . . you are loop
the loop!” and “You’re a nutcase, you are.” Suggest that they both
have love of each other’s mischievous and adventurous attitude. The
quote, “I love you . . . Shirley Valentine.” Shows that Joe loves her,
he uses her maiden name because to him she is still “Shirley Valentine”
and has not turned into “Shirley Bradshaw”, They can communicate and
are passionate about being with each other, they are happy with their
marriage. In contrast their marriage is now ‘worn out’, they cannot
communicate with each other and are always ending up in arguments.

Through flashbacks, one is also able to view the changes that have
occurred in Shirley since she was a teenager. As a teenager Shirley is
humiliated in the school hall, and her self-confidence wounded by her
Head Mistress. The Head Mistress asks everyone a Question, “What is
man’s most important invention?” No-body knows the answer, not even
the cleverest girl in school, Marjorie Majors. Shirley puts her hand
up. The Head Mistress ignores her, and asks others; still no one gets
it right. Then finally the Head Mistress asks Shirley Valentine,
“Miss… it was – the wheel!” She knows she has got it right, when
suddenly, “Somebody must have told you!” The Head Mistress is furious
and just could not accept the fact that Young Shirley Valentine is the
only person in the entire school that has the correct answer. This
experience makes Shirley feel the opposite way about her self, and
changes her attitude towards school, “I became a rebel.” This quote
suggests that Shirley does not care about school anymore and it does
not matter to her if she gets into trouble or breaks the school rules,
she now has a negative attitude towards school.

Shirley has an envious rival at school, Marjorie Majors, the teacher
pet. Shirley hates Marjorie on the outside but is really jealous of
her on the inside. You could easily understand all this from this
quote, “And all the time, I suppose really wanted to be like her.” It
shows that even though Shirley hates Marjorie all she wanted is to be
like he, smart, clever, and liked by teachers. “That makes four
billion house points she’s got so far.” This quote shows more of her
envy. Shirley bullies Marjorie, as another way of being rebellious,
breaking the rules, when we all know all she wants it to be like that.
She also does other things to get into the teachers’ ‘bad books’ such
as smoking, not paying attention in lessons, and wearing a really
short skirt. “I used to wear me school skirt so high you would’ve
thought it was a serviette.” We also see Russell using two very
dramatic quotes, which really convey how Shirley acted at school, “I
used to exude boredom out of every pore. An’ I hated everythin’.” and
“Well, tickle my tits till Friday.” As an adult she demonstrates
merely a small amount of the assertiveness she expressed as a
teenager.

Russell uses voiceovers to allow the character to speak over the
action and dialogue of other characters, to speak out her true
feelings and emotions to the audience. The other characters cannot
hear Shirley’s voiceovers. Russell abbreviates the word voiceover, so
it looks like VO. Here a good example of voiceover when Shirley is
having a conversation with her neighbour Gillian.

This is how it would be written in the book:

Shirley (VO) “I don’t normally have much to do with Gillian.”

Shirley’s close friend Jane, ‘the feminist’, gives Shirley an
opportunity to join her on a holiday to a Greek island, Mykonos. At
first Shirley is not showing any interest about going, even though
deep down inside her she really wants to go and keeps on making up
excuses about not being able to go. The quote “You’re the only one I
ever talk to. I won’t half miss you.” Suggests that Shirley is
isolated and lonely. Shirley is worried about to go to Greece because
she knows that Joe will think the obvious, she is going for the sex.
Shirley takes the decision to go to Greece because of many key
reasons.

The first key reason that makes her change her mind about going to
Greece is the reunion with Marjorie Majors. When she found out about
Marjorie’s profession she realised that societies expectations of you
do not always have to be met. In Marjorie’s case it was the fact that
yet she was so talented at school in her work, she grew up to be a
prostitute. In Shirley’s case it is the fact that there is a married
middle-aged woman going to a Greek island, and the only reason people
would come up with for her going is the fact that she is going for
sex. Marjorie also reminds Shirley of what she used to be like at
school, “I was marvellous”. In the meeting they found out that they
both wanted to be like each other.

Another key reason that contributed to Shirley making the decision of
her going to Greece was the incident that happened at the dinner table
with her husband, Joe. Joe is furious that he has not got egg and
chips for supper and not the usual ‘Thursday’ meal of steak, he reacts
in a very negative manner, “Well I’m not eatin’ this. I – am – not –
eatin’ – shite!” The quote, “When I’m workin’ all the hours that God
sends.” shows that Joe gets tired and grumpy in the evenings. But it
also shows that he spends all his time at work and not enough time at
home with Shirley. When Shirley reacts she speaks with steal in he
voice, which shows that she is determined. After this confrontation
Shirley gives a clue to Joe that she is going to Greece. But because
of their lack of communication he does not understand and thinks that
she wants both of them to go to Greece.

Millandra, Shirley’s daughter, comes back to live with her mother
because her and her flatmate, Sharon-Louise, have had an argument. She
has come back to gain comfort from her mother. Thinking as if Shirley
has not got anything to do, Millandra starts to make plans, whist
bossing Shirley around. The quote, “Will you go down and get us
another spoon?” is a very good example of this. Shirley starts to tell
Millandra her situation, but Millandra does not listen to Shirley.
Shirley explains to Millandra that she has been very lonely. Shirley
tells Millandra that she is going to Greece with Jane but Millandra
thinks stereotypically, Shirley is going to Greece for the sex.
Millandra’s attitude to Shirley is shown when she says, “I think it’s
a disgrace!” Shirley quickly replies with “Sex for breakfast, sex for
lunch, sex for dinner and sex for supper!” whilst Millandra is
storming out the house. This is another example of Shirley using
humour when she is really hurt.

This makes Shirley think again about going to Greece, she feels stupid
and thinks that she’s too old to go. When she is about to phone Jane
and tell her what has happened, the doorbell rings, it is Gillian.
Gillian thinks that Shirley is going to Greece with her lover, so she
has brought a present for her. Gillian looks up to Shirley because of
this, “I wish I’d had you bravery.” The quote, “I think you’re
marvellous.” shows Gillian boosting Shirley’s confidence. Gillian
makes Shirley feel like how she used to feel at school, marvellous.
Shirley looks into the mirror and says, “I’m no longer Shirley
Bradshaw – middle-aged housewife, beginnin’ to sag a bit – I’m Shirley
the Brave, Shirley the Marvellous! . . . Shirley Valentine!” This
quote shows that Shirley is not anymore that boring old married woman
but is back to her usual self, the usual self she used to be at
school.

Russell was born in Liverpool and uses the contrast between the two
settings, Liverpool and Greece, to emphasise how miserable and boring
Liverpool is compared to how bright, sunny, exotic and lively Greece
is. Shirley Bradshaw is associated with dull old Liverpool where as
Shirley Valentine is associated with exotic Greece. When Shirley first
arrives in Mykonos she admires at the scenery and is filled with
happiness. The quote, “It was like I’d come to the far side of
paradise. An’ I loved it.” Shows how much she liked it in comparison
to Liverpool. Even though Shirley is in Greece she is still lonely
because Jane ran off with a man she met on the plane. Shirley is
shocked at Jane and is surprised that se is acting this way because of
her attitude towards men, “Listen, Jane – I think you’ve probably
blown the Feminist of The Year Award, so just leave it out, will you.”
Shirley does not even like the man Jane has gone off with and call
him, “the walking groin.” This shows that Shirley knows that the man
as well is just in it for the sex. Shirley is still lonely even though
she is sitting on the beach, like in Liverpool where she talks to the
wall, in Greece she talks to the Rock, which is in a certain area of
the beach, where Shirley likes to relax.

The other English tourists cannot take in Greek culture; they want
everything to be like ‘England’, the food and surroundings. They are
quite rude toward the Greeks and try to help Shirley because they do
not think it is right for someone to be on their own. This is another
good example of society’s expectations of a middle-aged woman. Shirley
does not want do go with them but they insist she does. In the quote,
“It’s a good job we’re not havin’ soup or I’d put me head in it and
drown meself!” we see Shirley using humour again. The other English
tourists start to insult Greece and Greek culture and say that England
is a better place. However to everyone’s amazement Shirley defends the
Greeks, “The English? Don’t even talk to me about the English.” We
notice the irony when she mentions the wheel.

Shirley goes to a tavern and meets a meets a man called Costas who
make her dream, sipping wine in a country where it is grown by the
sea, come true by move her table to the sea. But she does not feel
satisfied because she is lonely. In this seen Russell uses very
important stage direction. While sitting by the sea, Shirley reflects
on her life and talks about life’s expectations not being what we
expect them to be. She also blames herself for wasting her potential.
Costas shows kindness to Shirley, so she decides to go. We see Shirley
being very rebellious, like how she used to in her school years, when
she agrees to go on a boat with Costas. Costas seems to be a very
charming man. He knows how to speak to women and makes them feel
comfortable. Costas can be sensitive and sympathetic. The next day
Jane comes back from her man, “the walking groin”, and acts as if
nothing has happened, towards Shirley. She starts to make plans on
what to do. When Costas comes in Jane mistakes him for ‘room-service’
and he mistakes her for ‘room-service’. Hypocritically Jane accuses
Shirley of doing the wrong thing by going off with Costas, when she
was the one who spent a few days with “the walking groin”. Shirley has
a new experience whilst being with Costas, she steers his boat along
the coast. Shirley realises that Costas has a way with women, “You
really know how to talk with women don’t you?” This is a contrast to
Joe; Joe is the total opposite he does not listen at all of Shirley.
The quote, “Shirley Valentine is the bloody loop!” reminds us of the
early days when her and Joe had fun. Shirley tells Jane that she has
not fallen in love with Costas she’s fallen in love with her new life.

Ironically Joe starts talking to the wall, because he is worrying
about his wife in Greece. This shows that Joe is also lonely and stuck
in the same dull routine as Shirley. Shirley goes to a Greek wedding
with Costas, which is a very positive experience for her. Shirley
really likes the wedding but has other things on her mind that are
distracting her. She is upset because she knows that she has to go
back to Liverpool soon. Shirley has an idea of staying in Greece
forever, when a couple of tourists mistake her for a waitress, in
Costas’s tavern. This gives her even more confidence to stay in Greece
and work for Costas. In the quote, “Because we don’t do what we want
to do – do we? We do what we have to do an’ pretend that’s what we
want to do.” Shirley explains the fait of most people and how we
continue in unhappy situations. We see that Shirley is assertive about
change.

When they are about to get on the plane Shirley decides that she is
going to stay in Greece forever. Jeanette and Dougie have a
stereotypical reaction towards her and judge her. When Shirley gets
back to Costas tavern she sees him using the same charms that he used
on her. The quote, “I haven’t come back for you. I’ve come back for a
job” show that she does not really want to be with Costas she only
wants a job, to Costas’s amazement On the phone Joe Says, “You’re a
disgrace.” This is the same thing that Millandra said and show his
attitude towards her. He blames her although the conversation. Shirley
is adjusting well to the lifestyle and the job. We see her going
through more new experiences, such as riding a scooter. She looks very
healthy and happy. Meanwhile Joe is still trying to persuade Shirley
to come back to Liverpool, but it’s not working. One day Brian, his
son, convinces Joe to go to Greece himself, in doing so he insults his
father. Joe goes to Greece, when he arrives he sees a woman sitting by
the sea sipping wine and offers obvious male approval, not knowing
it’s Shirley. When he walks down the road towards her he looks tired,
and he walks right past her. Shirley calls him, “Joe” Joe looking
surprised turns around, “I didn’t recognise you.” This shows that
Shirley is healthier. “Oh I hope he stays for a while. He needs a
holiday. He needs to feel the sun on his skin and to be in water
that’s as deep as forever.” This quote shows Shirley explaining to Joe
why she likes it in Greece. She also explains what good it would do
for Joe if he stayed with her in Mykonos. The film ends with the two
talking together like a proper married couple.

“It’s a change of life.” This is a good quote to sum up what Shirley
has done with her life. At the end of the play, Shirley and Joe are
talking happily. Russell use of stage direction right at the end of
the play is an effective dramatic device because it helps us to see
Joe’s reaction and attitude to the weather and surrounding, he cannot
handle. “I used to be the mother. I used to be the wife. But now I’m
Shirley Valentine again”. This quote shows that Shirley feels more
like a human being instead a sad old woman being bossed around at
home, she is happier, and she feels like a better person. She has
transformed both physically, emotionally and mentally.
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