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Jodie Prenger on her Shirley Valentine adventure

By the time Jodie Prenger finishes the UK tour of Shirley Valentine this autumn she will have cooked more than her fair share of egg and chips.

But what audiences may not realise is that when she cracks that egg in to a pan live on stage, it might have well come from one of her own chickens.

“I’m a very method actor, I like to use my own props,” she jokes (or should that be yokes?). “It’s actually quite endearing because I tend to use the big eggs, and I go ahhh that must be a Shirley egg that.”

Yes, one of Prenger’s hens on her burgeoning smallholding is named after her latest stage role, joining Calamity and ‘Madame T’ in the coup at home.

“We haven’t got a Miss Hannigan yet,” she adds. “And we’ve never had a Nancy, which is really weird. But I’m sure one day, when I’ll see her, I’ll know her name is Nancy.”

Unlike Calam, Madame T, Miss H and Nancy (the role that propelled Prenger in to the public consciousness), Shirley Valentine – coming to the Floral Pavilion next week – isn’t a singing role.

It’s a departure for the 38-year-old singer and actress, but one she was determined to grab with both hands after she was approached to play Willy Russell’s disaffected housewife.

Russell himself describes Prenger as “a formidable actress” who possesses “the grit and the warmth, the drive and the vulnerability, the energy and the heat to make Shirley Valentine really live again”.

“I’d never tell the producers this,” Prenger confides, “but I probably would have paid myself to be in it!

“It doesn’t make you feel like you’ve got a job because you really enjoy what you do.”

It’s a tough role – she had to learn 48 pages of lines, and find the voice of not only Shirley but also everyone else in her story. But evidently it’s been a rewarding experience. And one that its creator Russell knows about first hand.

Shirley Valentine was commissioned by director Glen Walford, who returns to direct here, and first staged at the Liverpool Everyman in 1986 when it starred Noreen Kershaw as the bored Shirley who swaps talking to the kitchen wall for a life-changing trip to Greece.

But during the run, Kershaw was struck down with appendicitis, and with without an understudy, Russell fulfilled a promise to go on as Shirley himself, beard and all. For three weeks.

Prenger is a huge admirer of the Whiston-born playwright, who put her at ease in the rehearsal room.

“That man makes you sick doesn’t he?” she laughs. “He’s not normal, I’m sorry. He writes, he acts, and then have you seen the artwork he does?”

She would, she admits, love to play Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers. But, she adds: “I just want him to write some more. I keep whispering it as I walk by him ‘write some more. Write some more’.

“Come on! One more musical, one more play!

“When somebody can have that connection with an audience, and I’ve genuinely seen it at first hand. What other people see as normal, he makes that extraordinary.”

Prenger is now on the home straight with the Shirley tour, but there’s no time to think about putting up her feet.

Immediately she finishes, rehearsals get underway for Kay Mellor’s Fat Friends the Musical, where she is appearing alongside Natasha Hamilton, Sam Bailey, Elaine C Smith, Kevin Kennedy….and cricketer Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff.

And then she’s straight in to panto at the Liverpool Empire.

“It’s just been really weird this past couple of years,” she says. “Every job, as soon as I’ve finished, the next on has started the day after.

“But then I have got chickens and cows to feed!”

Shirley Valentine is at the Floral Pavilion from September 18-23. Tickets HERE.

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