I have never seen Willy Russell‘s iconic play, Shirley Valentine about the Liverpool housewife, but I have seen the film starring Pauline Collins and Tom Conti. It is now being staged in London again, with Meera Syal as Shirley. It may seem stage that an actress of Indian origin should take this role, but this play has a history of good actresses of many races and nationalites having success with the part of Shirley.
I remember once many years ago, I drove from Chicago to Washington, leaving The Windy City just as it was getting dark. For the first two hours, I was listening to a chat show on the radio, where Ellen Burstyn spoke about her role as Shirley in the play, which was touring the United States and was at that time running in Chicago. Having heard that interview, I regretted that I had not known about the play, whilst in Chicago, as I would certainly gone and seen it. Ellen explained how she had been nervous to take on the play, as being set in Liverpool, she was worried about the accent. But then Willy Russell had reassured her and she decided to have a go. She said she couldn’t do the accent, but that she could do Irish, as she had that blood. Willy then explained that most Liverpudlians had Irish ancestry, so an Irish accent would do. In the end she made a great success of the part of Shirley.
So now that Meera Syal is taking over the part in London, all she is doing is following a great tradition of playing one of the best parts ever written for an actress.