Jodie Prenger, winner of television talent show I’d Do Anything, is now taking on the role of cult classic Shirley Valentine in the play’s 30th anniversary tour. By EMILY HENNINGS

SHIRLEY Valentine, written by Willy Russell, was introduced to the world in 1986 at the Everyman Theatre Liverpool. Three decades years later Russell has paired up with theatre director Glen Walford, the play’s original director in 1986, and the two are taking the production on tour.

Jodie Prenger, known in the theatre world for acclaimed performances in Oliver and Les Miserables among others, says she is delighted to be assuming the role of Shirley in the one-woman show.

“It’s a lovely show and it’s great to know that even after 30 years it’s still making people laugh and cry.” Willy Russell has had numerous offers to revive the play but said it had never felt right until now. He added that without the extraordinary talents of Prenger the tour may not have happened.

Shirley Valentine follows a woman in Liverpool stuck in a rut and when the chance to start again in a different country comes along, the opportunity is hard to resist. It’s not that Shirley hates her family, she just needs to fulfil her dream and do something solely for herself. Prenger says that it’s not just liberating for women but for men too. And she adds that it has relevance to everybody.

“We lead these lives, we’re so busy, we engulf ourselves in work and social media, we do all these things that take up so much of our time. But do we ever do things that make us truly happy?” It’s a rhetorical question, but the point resonates with our modern society.

Taking on the role of a character 30 years old is an honour, adds Prenger. “It’s all very honest, it’s very warm, very real and it’s very truthful. It all comes from gut instinct – she’s genuinely this real person. There’s a bit of Shirley in all of us.”

The next leg of the tour is Brighton. The company will be spending a week in the Theatre Royal Brighton, a stage Jodie has taken to before. She says: “I love Brighton. The shopping is amazing and the coffee. The crew always have a great time. All you need in life is a bit of sea and fresh air.”

Of Jodie’s acting acumen, Willy Russell said: “I knew in an instant that here was a formidable actress, one who possessed the grit and the warmth, the drive and the vulnerability, the energy and the heart to make Shirley Valentine really live again. “How could any playwright resist that or deny the whole of the UK the chance to see Jodie bring Shirley to life?’" 

In response to this resounding endorsement, Jodie says: “I’m not going to lie, when I read what he said there was a tear in my eye. It’s lovely because I work so hard. I’m very honoured to work in this industry. It’s a hard industry at best but when you get given a gem like Shirley Valentine what you do is roll up your sleeves and get stuck in.”

Prenger praises Russell for making the ordinary extraordinary. She says that to be surrounded by two greats of British theatre (Walford too) was intimidating at first but they were great to work with and the team had a lot of fun in the rehearsal room.

“To work with these people is a masterclass in itself and they are so lovely and down to earth. When you meet them you don’t know whether to look them in the eye – they are at that level.”

Prenger says that acting should never be about the fame – if you love what you do then you have to work for it. She always wants to make the people who support her proud and, she adds, that comes from doing your absolute best. Prenger is regularly commended for her relationship with audiences – a connection which is absolutely vital in a one-women show.

“It’s always a joy to laugh and have that interaction with an audience,” she says. It’s great because you go through the fourth wall with Shirley; you feel like you’re there in the kitchen, putting the world to rights.”

Shirley Valentine, Theatre Royal Brighton, Monday to Saturday, 7.45pm (2.30pm matinee on Thursday and Saturday), from £15, for more information call 08448 717650