WILLY Russell's perceptive comedy, Shirley Valentine, reveals the humdrum existence of the title character, a 42-year-old wife who is taken for granted by her ungrateful husband and grown up children.

Claire Sweeney's brilliant performance delighted the first night audience at Salisbury Playhouse, where this excellent production runs until March 7.

Shirley, who talks to the wall of her kitchen as she prepares egg and chips for her huband's return, is desperate to find relief from her humdrum existence. An unexpected opportunity,and its repercussions, transform Shirley's world as she gradually ventures beyond Merseyside to experience the unexpected delights of a Greek island.

This charming production, ably directed by Ian Talbot, has attractive design by Dawn Alsopp. It is an absolute tonic that evoked gales of laughter on the first night. There were also poignant moments of absolute silence, as Shirley's life unfolded.

Left to cope on her own at the resort, as her female companion went elsewhere, Shirley finds friendship as warm as the Mediterranean sunshine. Might her husband venture to glimpse Shirley's new life, for a brief holiday?

The play does not reveal any such outcome. sufficient to say that Shirley Valentine has found a new perspective to life, with new vitality, hope and opportunity.

Excellent sets enhance the production, which begins in Shirley's neat kitchen/diner and progresses to an idyllic Greek island. On its shore, instead of addressing her comments to a wall, she voices views to a rock on the beach.

This play is s a fantastic tonic, especially on a cold, rainy evening. The performance by Claire Sweeney is a theatrical treat to treasure.

Stella Taylor