“They laughed for two hours. They just couldn’t stop.” – Shirley Valentine starring Norma Sheahan playing at Lime Tree

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Norma Sheahan as Shirley Valentine

AN evening of laughter and triumph is in store for fans of Norma Sheahan, one of Ireland’s leading dramatic actors, as she breathes new life into Willy Russell’s effervescent and iconic character Shirley Valentine at the Lime Tree Theatre this Friday April 22.
Norma had a full house at Belltable two years ago for her comedy show ‘Heal Your Hole’ and when lockdown hit the entertainment industry, she developed her standup show into a podcast of the same name and it successfully ran for over 70 episodes.
Norma was also in the cast of the Angela’s Ashes The Musical which had its world premiere at the Lime Tree Theatre in 2017 taking part recently in a streamed event in 2021.
Now Norma is bringing the legendary character Shirley Valentine to Limerick.
This one-character play was written by Willy Russell (Educating Rita and Blood Brothers) and premiered in 1986. The much loved film version starring Pauline Collins, who also played the part in London’s West End, was released in 1989 nominated for Academy Awards and BAFTAs winning Best Actress in a Leading Role  for Pauline Collins.
The story follows middle-aged Shirley Valentine trapped in a dreary marriage and humdrum life. She wonders when she lost her hopeful, youthful self. With no support from her demanding husband, snooty neighbour, or self-absorbed teens, Shirley resorts to full-blown (although somewhat one-sided) conversations with her kitchen wall.
So, when a divorced friend asks Shirley to go on a vacation to Greece, she bravely gathers what remains of her dignity and begins a humorous and uplifting voyage of rediscovery.
Chatting to Limerick Post this week, Norma Sheahan explained that the play’s author Willy Russell was involved in this new adaptation which relocates the character to Cork, flying to Corfu for her holiday and voyage of discovery.
“So the guy who wrote it all, Willy Russell, he also wrote Blood Brothers and Educating Rita, he came on a zoom with us last year and helped us to make the play Irish because he was very interested in a Cork version of it. 
“Everything London is replaced with Dublin. Everything is replaced with different things within Ireland.
“But he had to take everything off. We weren’t allowed to change a syllable, unless he gave the go ahead. 
“My director Michael Scott is a friend of his and that was really special because Willie Russell in the UK, he is a God whereas here, we just think he’s fantastic for Blood Brothers and the rest.”
Norma had a sell-out run of this new adaptation of Shirley Valentine at The Gaiety and is in the midst of a 32 county tour. How is the Irish audience responding?
‘I’m doing all the 32 counties but I did places like Draiocht in Blanchardstown and I just had to throw all the sad bits out the window because those ladies just didn’t stop for air!”
“They laughed for two hours. They just couldn’t stop.”
“The show was way longer because I had to go off and dry dishes and do things to just let them get it out of their system.”
“It was like they bottled up their misery for two years and they just let it off.”
“If I could have brought those women with me to every venue – They were electric!”
“It’s really about getting the girls out and like, maybe wear your incontinence pants because, you know, there is a lot of laughing.”
“But it is also deep and meaningful. It has layers as well, it’s not just complete fluff.”
The story of Shirley Valentine perhaps resonates with everyone today as we emerge from two years of staying at home and putting plans and ambitions on hold. And now that life and theatrical life is getting back to normality, the time to get out and celebrate life together again has arrived for us all, not just for the St Joan of the fitted units.
“Everyone can relate to Shirley Valentine because it’s about finding a purpose. It’s about all this unused life that drags us down, all these hopes and dreams that we don’t use. And for her, it’s about just breaking loose and doing something, fulfilling a dream.”
Shirley Valentine plays at Lime Tree Theatre on Friday April 22, 8pm. Booking at www.limetreetheatre.ie
Norma Sheahan was chatting with Meghann Scully