Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax

WHEN she's not listening to Wham in her bedroom, Shirley is down the pub with her mate, Karen, or screaming blue murder at her mother, or cheating on her bloke while he's counting off the days in a prison cell.

For Shirley, a young woman whose life unfolds within the walls of a Bradford council house, it's all about getting through the day - with a pint and a bit of a laugh at the end of it if she's lucky.

It was life as Andrea Dunbar knew it, having spent hers on Buttershaw estate. Like her previous work - The Arbor and Rita, Sue and Bob Too - Andrea's third and final play, Shirley, is largely autobiographical and brutally honest; lifting a net curtain on scenes she knew well.

This unflinching, funny and touching play - beautifully performed at Square Chapel Arts Centre last night, in the latest of a series of tributes to Dunbar's work - doesn't make judgements, nor does it offer solutions. It just says it like it is.

With an Eighties pop soundtrack and the cast in stone-washed jeans and shellsuit jackets, the setting is 30 years ago, when Andrea wrote the play as a young mother. But its themes - family conflict, friendship, sex, betrayal, boredom, lost youth and getting high - are timeless.

The action shifted from the house Shirley shares with her mother, where daily slanging matches bounce off the walls, to the jukebox of the local pub and a prison waiting room, where Shirley's present and future collide. As she and boyfriend Eddie flirt and bicker across the table, Shirley has one eye on an older couple sitting nearby, whose marriage is falling apart. It's an unsettling glimpse into the coming years for Shirley and Eddie.

Weaving through the play is a clever theatrical technique of actors in neighbouring scenes having conversations at the same time; their dialogue moving to the rhythm of Andrea's writing. It is to the credit of this terrific cast that such a demanding process worked so well, creating razor-sharp realism.

There is nothing touchy-feely about the dysfunctional lives of Shirley, her mum, her best friend and her boyfriend. The closest Shirley gets to affection is sex. But there is love, and it emerges in small gestures, not least in the moving final scene when Shirley offers her mum a ciggie and they and they sit side-by-side on the sofa, reflecting on life with and without men.

Bradford actress Natalie Gavin, who made such an impact in the film interpretation of Andrea Dunbar's play The Arbor, was excellent as Shirley. Taking centre stage in practically every scene, she was hugely impressive as a girl who barely looks further than tomorrow - because she knows what's likely to come. A lovely performance too from Karen Henthorn as Shirley's highly-strung, occasionally wistful mother.

Great performances all round from Stephen Hoyle as hapless Eddie, Darren Jeffries as bed-hopping chancer John, Liz Simmons as Shirley's anxious friend Karen, James Lewis as lumbering Simon, whose tragi-comic glue-sniffing scene was particularly haunting, and Joe Osborne as mum's long-suffering on-off bloke, Roy.

Last night's one-off performance (with a tour hopefully to follow) was followed by a Q&A with the cast and director Julia North, joined by Andrea Dunbar's daughter, Lisa.

Shirley was Andrea’s third play for the Royal Court, and her final piece of writing before her death. Last night was only the third time it has been staged, in 30 years. Uncompromising, in-your-face, and peppered with the kind of humour that is born in adversity, it has as much of a place on the stage today as it had back then.

This production is a fine tribute to the work of a remarkable young woman and her raw talent. As director Julia North last night: "Imagine what else she could have given us."