In 1986, when Willy Russell first wrote his play Shirley Valentine, shirts emblazoned with the slogan "The Future is Female" weren't flying off the shelves and it would be decades before the hashtag #TimesUp became a rallying call to unite women.

Nevertheless, more than 30 years on, Russell's comic monologue delivered by an unappreciated Liverpudlian housewife who decides to take a life-changing trip to Greece continues to resonate with its message of upending expectations of gender and class to follow one's dreams.

Sharon Millerchip was deeply touched when she first read the Shirley Valentine script.

Photo: Louise Kennerley

Pauline Collins most memorably introduced Shirley into the collective consciousness in the 1989 film version of the play. Now triple Helpmann winner Sharon Millerchip is making a performance comeback enticed by the prospect of fashioning her own interpretation of such a strong female character.

"It's so relevant today," Millerchip says. "When I got the script and read it through several times I just burst into tears totally involuntarily. It's about wanting to make the most of our time here in this world, squeezing the life out of every experience. She discovers this sense of empowerment, it's not like she's following any sort of women's lib dictum, but she decides, 'I'm worth this'."

While Millerchip thinks of the character as a feminist, she doesn't think Shirley herself would agree.


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