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From Educating Rita to Shirley Valentine

STARRING ROLE: West Belfast actress Tara Lynne O’Neill is Shirley Valentine STARRING ROLE: West Belfast actress Tara Lynne O’Neill is Shirley Valentine
By Ciara Quinn

15,000 words of script could seem daunting to many a seasoned actor but West Belfast actress Tara Lynne O’Neill is sharing each and every one with pathos, poignancy and hilarity as she continues her storming Shirley Valentine at the Lyric Theatre.
The Derry Girls actress was approached to play one of Willy Russell’s most iconic creations by Lyric Executive Producer Jimmy Fay, a part she had no hesitation in accepting.
“It was a play I’ve always wanted to do. I did Educating Rita at the Lyric and it felt right to perform Shirley here as well.
“I was waiting to get to that right age in my career and we went into rehearsals in May. There is something about Willy Russell’s work that relates to me and to Belfast; I think the humour translates exactly the same. Both Rita and Shirley have similarities, they are characters who want more,” she said.
The Fall and In The Line of Duty actress said the play still has resonance today despite being written more than 30 years ago.
“For many generations women have been told their place. Here is a woman that says ‘well this is what I want and I want to do it differently’.”
Tara spoke of how she “couldn’t wait” to work with acclaimed Tinderbox Artistic Director Patrick J O’Reilly on the production.
“I knew he would bring such physicality to the piece, I never wanted it to be me playing lots of different people, it has to be Shirley. Patrick’s take on plays is always a little bit to the left so I couldn’t wait to see how left he would go and boy did he go left,” she laughed.
“Right from the off Patrick and set and lighting designer Paul Keogan wanted the set to symbolise many things. It opens in Shirley’s kitchen, it’s stark, it’s white, it’s almost asylum like. Shirley keeps it so clean so the symbolism of her writing ‘Greece’ in huge colourful letters on a pristine white kitchen is a really beautiful concept that Patrick and Paul came up with.”
She continued: “When Act Two opens and Shirley is in Greece, she hasn’t completely left her life behind, she’s only gone to Greece for a fortnight. Her surroundings have changed but there are remnants of her life back home still on the stage. Because you change scene doesn’t mean you have changed, that change has to come from you and I loved that premise.
“At the end of the show, her husband Joe is coming over to see her and she is excited by that. Willy Russell doesn’t know if they are getting back together but they are meeting up. The character of Shirley doesn’t blame Joe for anything that has happened – or didn’t happen in her life. They were both these hopeful people when they married and somewhere along the way life got in the way, everyone in a couple can relate to that.”
The former St Genevieve’s High School student does not wear a mic during performances, which helps her be “intimate with the whole theatre”.
“The character of Shirley is a gift, I always knew she was and I think there’s a Shirley in everyone. People seem to instantly connect and understand her and that make it really lovely because then it’s just a conversation I’m having with 400 people a night. It’s a conversation about life, the script is poignant, it’s sad but ultimately uplifting for everyone.”

Shirley Valentine runs at The Lyric Theatre until October 5. For ticket information visit

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