How do the dramatic techniques used in the play help audience to understand the importance of Shirley's transformation?

In ‘Shirley Valentine’ Willy Russell presents the transformation of a stifled middle-aged woman who changes dramatically from her married self. This is represented by the use of different dramatic techniques such as voiceovers, flashbacks, monologues and other effects which are some of the devices Willy Russell uses to display changes during the play. This will alter the audiences view towards Shirley – a stifled, bored, middle-aged woman to an outgoing, adventurous and free woman. This play is influenced by kitchen sink drama although it is not exactly similar.

A kitchen sink drama is about pessimistic working class men, with an emphasis on domestic realism and their social problems.

However in this play the main protagonist is a woman. This play also contains humour unlike a kitchen sink drama but both type of play are similar as these plays are based on the unfulfilled life of the main character. This play is focused on a working class life, social problems and relationships of a woman who hasn’t fulfilled her life and is stuck at home.

The character of Shirley represents the frustrations of working class women who remains isolated from the outside world and instead have to dwell in work of domestic labour. From this we can tell that Willy Russell was influenced from his childhood as he had become a ladies hairdresser, a job he didn’t quite enjoy, by taking his mothers advice. This job connected Russell to women and their lives where he was able to socialise with many women and gained an inside view of how they felt.

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Russell combined his problems in life to working class women, creating the relationship between Shirley and her life. Russell satirises feminism in the play by introducing Shirley’s best friend Jane who believes in feminism, only because of her past experiences with her husband. But Willy Russell mocks feminism as Jane goes of with another man. Although Jane is supposed to represent feminism gone wrong in the play, we could also work out Willy Russell thoughts on feminism. However Russell isn’t against feminists as he sympathises with Shirley. The title sequence and opening scenes help to establish Shirley’s character as a weighed down, lonely housewife trapped in the life of domestic labour. As the movie, ‘Shirley valentine’ starts we are shown different types of house chores portraying that ‘Shirley valentine’ has something to do with domestic chores.

During the credits for ‘Shirley valentine’ we are shown sketches presenting the incompleteness, as sketches are the first draft of the final painting and this hints that there will be changes. The theme song employs the disappearance of Shirley, “Shirley wasn’t there anymore,” but it also states “I would like the chance to be the girl who used to be me.” Meaning that if Shirley has a chance to change back to who she was she would take it. As the movie begins we are shown Shirley walking towards the camera loaded with shopping bag weighing her down, which changes to a street of small semi-detached houses with small front garden, this implies the narrowness of her life. When Shirley enters the house she sighs and the first person she talks to is the wall – “Hello wall.” Through this monologue we can understand she is lonely because when she is using monologue we know that she is talking on her own.

All together we can assume that she is depressed and from the theme we can say that the Shirley doing the housework isn’t who she used to be. We know that she changed into someone completely different. Willy Russell uses flashback to show the audience how Shirley Valentine slowly changed into Shirley Bradshaw. This also shows us the contrast of what Shirley use to be like and how she is now. The flash back of when Shirley and Joe were newly married, shows how they were happily married as they used to be more fun, spontaneous and comfortable in their marriage. When we go back to Shirley’s present state, it seems that the relationship is very boring and they are less socialised with each other. This shows how their relationship had changed from one thing to another.

In the flashback of where Shirley is discussing the clitoris with her friends, she states about what Joe thinks of the clitoris, and when he replies, “doesn’t go as well as the Ford Cortina.” This employs that Joe isn’t physically interested in Shirley anymore. Another flashback of how Shirley used to be like when she was young. In the scene during assembly, Willy Russell showed how school destroyed her life. When Shirley was a kid she was neglected by her teacher and was never expected to get anything right butwhen she finally did, the headmistress thought that she has cheated. Through voice over we are told, “I was never really interested in school after that. I became a rebel.”

This informed us that she gave up her education during her childhood now as a result she is an adult with no education and is trapped in her marriage. Another flashback has shown how Shirley Valentine was like. She use to wear her school skirt so high, this shows her confidence where as in the present, she lacks this. This flash back also shows that her school life was not good … “I hate everything” this shows her low self esteem. This flashback also states her rebellious and mischievous side, “Well tickle my tits till Friday.” Her personality then was opposite to Shirley’s personality now.

The flash back of when Shirley met Marjorie shows how Shirley life is very boring, “Got a postage stamp? I will write it down for you!” this shows how her life is narrow and empty and that she has done nothing interesting in her life. This flashback had also shown how she never received much love in her relationship, “there was real affection in that kiss. It was the sweetest kiss I’d known for years.” Shirley was so affected by the way Marjorie said goodbye because the kiss was a nice, warm and comforting kiss, which she hadn’t experienced in years. All these flashbacks are very effective as they help us to empathise with Shirley now by showing bit by bit of how the events in her life changed who she was to who she is.

Encounters with minor characters establish Shirley’s character and reveal changes in her attitude. When she meets Renos, she is then more sociable and gregarious; she is also much happier talking to him. When she is dining with the holiday makers Dougie and Jeannette, she gains more confidence. ‘She turns to Sydney speaking with emphasis.’ whereas previously she would’ve spoken to the camera but now she expresses her opinions publicly. The quote “most important invention of all – the wheel” mean that Shirley is reclaiming the young, brave Shirley valentine who was crushed by poor education and is now displaying knowledge/intelligence. She is also expressing how she is feeling, which wouldn’t have done before.

When Shirley meets Costas, we see the changes transforming Shirley Bradshaw to Shirley valentine. “I wanna jump of the roof!” This portrays that she is regaining the bravery of young Shirley, but when she was back at Liverpool she was resistant of going as she was too old. After meeting Costas Shirley tells herself …”I’ve fallen in love with the idea as living.” This displays Shirley’s transformation – she felt how it is to be free, to live that she’s fallen in love with it. ‘Shirley valentine’ uses minor characters and various comic devices to add humour, to reveal elements of Shirley’s personality and to mock stereotypes. With the use of irony, sarcasm and wordplay ‘Shirley valentine’ became an entertaining play.

Humour is presented as a strategy in which Shirley uses to cope with her miserable life. Her witty remarks to Joe – “Joe: …you are going round the bend.” “Shirley: … do hope so. I’ve always wanted to travel.” – reveals a part of the confident that Shirley once had. Minor characters also add to the humour of the screenplay. The tourist complaining about Greece being “too Greek”, provides entertainment. Russell’s use of dramatic monologue helps us to empathise with Shirley by Shirley’s relationship with the audience. It helps us to feel included in Shirley’s life as she reveals her inner thoughts.

Monologues also create a sense of intimacy as we feel she is confiding her secrets to us, trusting us when she is talking to the camera or herself… “Shirley (to camera): he says he still loves me. You know…” this helps us feel involved, like she really is talking to us. Initially, the dramatic monologue reveals Shirley’s opinion on her life, such as “I do miss them, the kids” highlighting her loneliness. “Shirley looks unbelievingly at the camera.” This includes the audience helping us to understand her reaction. Dramatic monologue helps us to empathise with Shirley. “Why do we get all this life if we don’t ever use it?” this makes us feel that Shirley is asking us that question as well as herself. It makes us wonder about this and feel sympathy for her. “That’s where Shirley Valentine disappeared to. She got lost in all this unused life.”

This quote lets us know how she feels lost. It makes us realise how hopeless Shirley feels. All of this makes us feel what she is saying. Dramatic monologue charts Shirley’s developing confidence, particularly as she prepares to go to Greece. After the visit from Gillian, when Shirley describes herself as ‘brave’ and ‘marvellous’ the audience sees a remarkable change in Shirley’s mood and self-esteem. Voiceovers help us to keep updated. “Shirley (VO): Jane divorced her husband…found him in be with the milkman …” This is more informative because she tells us why Jane became a feminist. This also helps us feel involved in Shirley’s life. Voice over is also one of the dramatic techniques which adds Shirley’s point of view in the present to the past.

This creates the difference of how Shirley was feeling then and how she is feeling now – “young Shirley: I hate the world. I hate everything.” “Shirley (VO): but I didn’t really hate anything. The only thing I hated was me.” This also shows that Shirley is becoming more self-aware as the screenplay progresses, so that she can recognise, for example, her low self-esteem. Willy Russell’s use of setting highlights the difference between Shirley in Greece and Shirley in Liverpool in many ways. When Shirley was in Liverpool, she was in many scenes which represented Shirley such as “small semi-detached house with small front gardens” this shows the narrowness of her life.

Whereas in Greece … “the sea lapping gently below her.” This shows freedom. The atmosphere in Liverpool also represents Shirley … “pouring with rain.” This creates a dull, sad and depressing mood which highlights the unexciting life of Shirley. However in Greece the “stunning natural beauty of the place …” This shows how Shirley is changing as this scene is contrasting to the rain, and “the shimmer of the midday sun on a calm sea” this represents a strong contrast to Liverpool – rainy England to sunny Greece, shows changes in Shirley. Shirley states that she loves the difference between England and Greece …”It was like I’d come to the far side of paradise. An’ I loved it.” Another contrast is Shirley’s appearance.

While Shirley was in Liverpool, Shirley usually wore cloths without any shape such as an ‘overall’, whereas when Shirley is in Greece she wears cloths that show out her figure. This play is divided into scenes in Liverpool and Scenes in Greece. There are differences in scenes in Liverpool and Greece which informs us where she is and when something is happening day or night. This helps us to see where Shirley is in our head and creates an atmosphere. This also helps us know more about the flashbacks to see them as memories instead of stories. The absence of flashbacks in the Greek scenes shows that Shirley is enjoying her time in Greece as she is spending less time thinking about the past and more time thinking about the present. This presents change in Shirley as a more relaxed person.

The climatic moment of the play is when Shirley is having dinner with Joe. This is the point, when Shirley decides to go to Greece for a change. Willy Russell ensures that the audience emphasises with Shirley’s decision to leave Joe, when Joe patronises her. He does not appreciate Shirley’s hard work. When Joe pushes his plate along the table, it hits Shirley’s plate, and the contents tip into Shirley’s lap. This became the final straw for Shirley and the audience know that Shirley must have had enough. This scene also shows that Joe uses Shirley as doormat as she has to do all the work for him, just as he wants it to be e.g. the routine. We can see that Shirley needs a break, needs to rebel and going to Greece is something the audience will agree with.

My final impression of Shirley’s character is that she isn’t Shirley Bradshaw anymore, that her transformation to Shirley Valentine is complete. She is ‘relaxed and peaceful’ where before Shirley was always stressed and depressed. When Shirley says “… He needs a holiday. He needs to feel the sun on his skin and to be in water that’s deep as forever.” This proves that she’s changed so much she can now worry about Joe and his unfulfilled life. The fact that Shirley cannot be recognised by her own husband says that her visual transformation is symbolic of her emotional change. “But now I’m Shirley Valentine again.” Shirley has reclaimed her true identity and at the end she fulfils her dreams near the setting sun showing a happy ending.

From all this I can see that Shirley is now a very happy and free person and has changed for good. Overall we can see that slowly we have watched the transformation of Shirley Valentine transform into Shirley Bradshaw and change back into Shirley Valentine. She has turned from a life of captivity in house chores and boredom to freedom and adventure. This has been portrayed by the impact of dramatic techniques which creates empathy and shows past experiences, changes and her point of view on things helping us to understand this transformation.

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How do the dramatic techniques used in the play help audience to understand the importance of Shirley's transformation?. (2018, Dec 18). Retrieved from

How do the dramatic techniques used in the play help audience to understand the importance of Shirley's transformation?
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