Shirley is the first production of the spring/summer season at Manchester’s newest theatre venue; Hope Mill. Written by Andrea Dunbar, Shirley is a snapshot of the lives of the working classes in Northern England in the 1980’s.

Upon entering the theatre the stage was set up was incredible and it’s clear that Richard Cooper and Stephen Hoyle (the set designers) have done a good job. The set is that of a classic two bedroom council flat. However, the Blondie poster and the décor couldn’t scream 80s any louder if it tried.

One of the things I noticed quite early on is that the layout of the theatre space means that the people sitting towards the rear (like me) had a limited view of the stage. In this production a sofa was placed at the front of the stage, however my view of this was extremely limited and found myself adjusting my position quite regularly to see the action. This meant that I lost a few bits that happened on the sofa.

The production takes a risk by having overlapping dialogue in quite a few scenes. On occasions this did work well. However, there were times (especially the prison scene) that it became difficult to follow both stories.

For such a short production there is quite a large cast. Personally I don’t think the characters are built up enough for the audience to care about them, especially the character of Shirley (Natalie Gavin). We only saw glimpses of her vulnerable side - I wanted more.

However, I must say that after watching this show that I am in absolute awe of Karen Henthorn who plays Shirley’s mother; Audrey. Her comic timing was impeccable, and in my opinion was the standout performer of the night - by a mile! I will definitely be keeping my eye out for any of her future work.

The bond between mother and daughter in Shirley is what made the play for me, and is definitely something I would like to see more of in the play. The chemistry between Henthorn and Gavin felt more natural that any other pairing in this production.

Any profits made from tickets of Shirley will be donated to Mustard Tree, helping homeless people in Manchester. The play runs at Hope Mill until 19th March.

Reviewer: Kevin O’Brien

Reviewed: 16th March 2016