4* review for play about Shurl from the valleys

Review by Lise McNally

An Audience with Shurl is a production with undeniable heart. And, appropriately enough for a show which hails from the valleys of Wales, it is a heart filled with a love for sound and story. A gorgeously plotted piece which is likeable, laudable and affecting, it is well worth indulging the script's occasional flaw as if smiling at an old friend.

“ A voice redolent of valley forests and fireside chats”

Which is exactly what Shurl (Sue Schilperoort) will become. This one woman show sees the Shirley Bassey wannabe welcome us into her dressing-room and into her past. Her highly personal account of growing up in Wales is punctuated by snatches of music and song, as nostalgia, comedy and tragedy unite in this unpolished but still rather marvellous script. The methods of revelation are particularly masterful and varied, as births and deaths blur into the sporadic and vivid impressions of childhood.

Taking full possession of her stage, Sue Schilperoort’s Shurl is chatty and commendably natural. In particular, those scenes when she portrays her very young self are brilliantly delivered, with the adamant and staccato syntax peculiar to children. She maintains this childlike quality to her speech even once the story has moved into adolescence. However, far from being a failing, this near-naivety creates a moving discrepancy between Shurl’s emotional development and what she must learn to cope with. The pram scene especially is perfectly pitched, sad and sweet and beautiful all at once.

Adult Shurl’s adventures in Rio are the scripts low point. Most notably, the meeting with Shirley Bassey, surely an epoch in her life, is understated perhaps to a fault. However, having seen her energetic abilities elsewhere, we might attribute this lull to the performer’s evidentaly sore throat, which was bravely battled throughout the show.

Certainly it is not a performance to suit every taste. However, if you are ready to listen, this is storytelling at its very best. The pacing and sound quality of the production are simply stunning. Music and soft lighting create a captivating and strangely hypnotic ambiance, which is cemented by Schilperoort’s amazing vocal ability. Her voice, redolent of valley forests and fireside chats, is wholly irresistible. As a result, it is hard not to be amused and moved by what is undeniable a heartfelt and committed performance.

 

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