STANDING barefoot on stage while cuddling son Billy, Sheridan Smith’s eyes filled with tears after her performance as Shirley Valentine.
But as she looked out on the standing ovation at London’s Duke Of York’s Theatre on Wednesday, it was hard to imagine that 16 months ago the actress was “lucky to be alive”.
GettySheridan Smith’s eyes filled with tears after her performance as Shirley Valentine at London’s Duke Of York’s Theatre on Wednesday[/caption]
Sheridan’s 4X4 swerved off the road and into a tree during a storm in November 2021
She had hit rock bottom after smashing her £100,000 Range Rover into a tree during a fierce storm.
Now, in a return to the spotlight, Sheridan has embarked on a 15-week stint in the adaptation of Willy Russell’s one-woman 1986 play about a middle-aged Liverpudlian housewife who is trapped at home in an unhappy marriage.
But a sun-soaked holiday to Greece with a friend helps Shirley to find joy again.
Taking a bow as she ended her two-hour performance — which it emerged yesterday has made history by breaking the theatre’s box-office record after opening to bookings of £4million — Sheridan’s darkest moments faded into the past.
A source said: “Shirley Valentine was already a natural treasure but Sheridan has made the nation fall in love with her all over again.
“No one could have imagined that a one-woman play from the Eighties would break box-office records but theatre bosses are thrilled.
“Sheridan has never been happier. She is adored on stage and has her son by her side.
“It is as if she is having her very own Shirley Valentine awakening.”
Industry expert Jonathan Shalit said: “I think what this show has done is really establish her as the Queen of the West End.”
Over the years, the actress’s life story — marred by anxiety, grief, alcohol and break-ups — had become more turbulent than those of the characters she plays in gritty TV dramas.
Sheridan, 41, was behind the wheel of her 4×4 in November 2021, apparently alongside her then-boyfriend Alex Lawler, when she veered off the narrow country road during 60mph gales and icy conditions 600 yards from her home in Essex.
It came just 90 minutes before an episode of The Jonathan Ross Show, featuring Sheridan, aired on ITV.
It was reported at the time that the actress had erupted in fury backstage, accusing the programme of “misogyny” and chauvinism and threatening to sack her team.
Sheridan, the only female guest on the line-up, raged at production staff, eventually prompting an intervention from host Jonathan.
But the backstage drama was just the tip of the iceberg for what Sheridan — known for her roles in TV dramas Mrs Biggs and Cilla — was going through when the cameras stopped rolling.
While audiences applauded her ability to portray raw emotion and vulnerability onscreen, it appeared these attributes were proving her downfall in real life.
Sheridan split from TV host James Corden in 2009 after a two-year whirlwind romance.
Two tears later, crippling panic attacks during her sold-out run of Legally Blonde shows — which earned her an Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical — were the start of her spiral into depression and anxiety.
This culminated in a breakdown following the news in 2016 that her dad Colin had been diagnosed with cancer.
At the time, Sheridan was starring as Fanny Brice in West End musical Funny Girl.
Rumours circulated that she had been drunk on stage — a claim she vehemently denied — while show promoters blamed her erratic performances on “technical difficulties”.
BackGridOld Sheridan Smith snapped drinking wine in Mexico, 2017[/caption]
Elliott FranksNew Sheridan has embarked on a 15-week stint in the adaptation of Willy Russell’s one-woman 1986 play[/caption]
Cancelling one show 15 minutes into the performance, Sheridan eventually pulled out of the production and took a two-month break to care for her 80-year-old dad in his final days. Colin died in December 2016.
Speaking on The Jonathan Ross Show about taking time out from work, she said: “It was the worst thing, I hate it and I always think, ‘The show must go on’, and I hate letting anyone down.
“I think the public understood in a way that you can’t choose when these things happen. It was a gradual build- up when my dad got diagnosed and I just couldn’t continue.
“I lost my mind, to the point where people were stopping me in the street and cuddling me because people understand that, it’s just life.
“Unfortunately you can’t just take time off from a show. You get a lot of abuse, so that’s what happened.”
In particular, a subtle dig from Graham Norton at the 2016 Baftas — around the same time she had been performing in Funny Girl — tipped her “over the edge”.
Sitting among the packed audience at the Royal Festival Hall in London, Sheridan, who was nominated for her part in BBC One drama The C-Word, found the ill-timed gag to be the “final straw”.
She recalled in ITV documentary Sheridan Smith: Becoming Mum, which aired in 2020: “Graham was hosting and made a joke about me being a drunk.
“I was so humiliated — it’s a room full of your peers. People you want to work with.
“That night for me was like the final straw, before my brain totally went off the deep end.”
Unbeknown to her family and peers, Sheridan had become addicted to anti-anxiety medication.
When she returned to her hotel after the Baftas, she convinced herself to stop taking the tablets. But it led to her suffering five seizures and being rushed to hospital.
It was a serious wake-up call.
In 2018 things were looking up when Sheridan met insurance broker Jamie Horn through dating app Tinder before he got down on one knee with a £10,000 ring.
Twelve months later, Sheridan confirmed that she was expecting her first child with Jamie.
The couple welcomed son Billy in May 2020, posting on Instagram that they “were overwhelmed with love”. But sadly the pair were to separate in July 2021.
Shortly after the split, Sheridan revealed she was in a relationship with actor Alex Lawler, whom she had dated 20 years earlier.
But it lasted just four months, with Sheridan’s pals explaining the romance had “run its course”.
Embracing single life last August, Sheridan — who said in 2019 she was trying to abstain from alcohol after several public meltdowns — was snapped outside a restaurant in Islington, North London, after a five-hour booze session.
But that is all a far cry from her polished return to the West End this week.
As the doting mother scooped two-year-old Billy into her arms in front of her adoring audience, Sheridan appeared to have taken back control of her life.
She said: “Never have I felt such emotion. My boy surprised me but stole the show tonight.
“So proud of him. He’s the only reason I do this.”
Shirley Valentine review, Duke of York’s Theatre, London
By Emily Webber
IT may be billed as a one-woman show, but Sheridan Smith showed that Shirley Valentine is so much more than the tale of a lonely Liverpudlian housewife.
The actress slipped into the white pumps and apron of Shirley and, despite her character only having the listening ear of a pasty blue wall, Sheridan’s warmth felt like you had just popped round for tea with an old friend.
Based on Willy Russell’s 1986 play and directed by Matthew Dunster, Sheridan’s impeccable timing had the audience bursting with laughter – even if they already knew the punchline.
Comparing sex to Sainsbury’s – “a lot of pushing and shoving and you don’t really come away with very much” – the jokes still tickled 37 years on in the age of swiping left and right on dating apps.
But it was Sheridan’s talent for embodying the other characters in Shirley’s life that explained why the play’s run at The Duke Of York’s Theatre in London has been extended to 15 weeks.
The star breathes life into her regimented husband Joe, snooty neighbour Gillian and Greek tavern owner Costas – with her flawless transitions proving she is at the top of her game.
BackGridSheridan pictured during five-hour booze session in London last year[/caption]
GettyAs the doting mother scooped two-year-old Billy into her arms in front of her adoring audience, Sheridan appeared to have taken back control of her life[/caption]