Pauline Collins originated the role of Shirley Valentine in the original West End run of the play at the Vaudeville Theatre in London in 1988. This production was produced by Bob Swash and directed by Simon Callow. Previously, the play had premiered in 1986 in a production produced by the Liverpool Everyman Theatre, directed by Glen Walford and starring Noreen Kershaw as Shirley Valentine.
A rarity in film, Pauline Collins' character Shirley sporadically engages the cinema audience by looking straight into the camera as she voices her thoughts, a technique called "breaking the fourth wall". Curiously enough, the film's director Lewis Gilbert earlier directed Michael Caine as the titular Alfie (1966) in which he also spoke his thoughts directly to the viewer.
The original Broadway production of "Shirley Valentine" by Willy Russell opened at the Booth Theater in New York on 16th February 1989 after eight previews where it ran for 324 performances until 25th November 1989. The production received two Tony Award nominations in 1989 including Best Play and Best Actress in a Play winning for the latter. Collins recreated her Tony Award winning stage role in this movie.
First theatrical feature film that Pauline Collins had appeared in for about twenty-three years. Collins' last cinema movie had been 1966's Secrets of a Windmill Girl (1966). In between though, Collins worked on stage with also numerous credits in television.
The source Willy Russell play "Shirley Valentine" was a one-hander or one-character play. In the one-woman show, the actress playing the title character voices all the other characters which were, for this film adaptation, were fleshed out and cast with other actors, all in speaking parts for roles which on stage were had all been voiced by the Shirley Valentine character during her one long continuous monologue.