Photos: Manuel Harlan
I enjoyed my evening with the Shoe Lady but I’m still not sure why.
Perhaps it is the tour de force acting from Katherine Parkinson, on stage for the whole show with her witty, clever and funny portrayal of Viv; a characterisation created from a deceptively barebones script, largely presented through the fourth wall.
Then the setting. In the dark before the show the set by Chloe Lamford appears ordinary but once things start it becomes clear that on each side of a bed is a set of stairs leading to below stage with the bed sliding back to expose a moving walkway with variable speeds, used to great dramatic effect throughout the play. Add to this some extremely good effects through the lighting by Natasha Chivers and we have a unique setting for this show.
On top of that is Matthew Herbert’s delightful score which complements the whole.
The style? For me part Beckett, part absurdist, part Bennett with a song - yes, a song (and a dance on the travellator!) that owes something to Brecht and Weil.
Or is it E.V. Crowe’s quirky script with its thought-provoking observations on modern life?
The whole drawn together brilliantly by Vicky Featherstone.
The plot would be straight forward enough. A woman in a disappointing marriage, Viv doesn’t take a great deal of joy in her child (Archer Brandon), has a husband ( Tom Kanji) who is about to be made redundant and a job as an estate agent which she doesn’t particularly like. The twist comes when she loses a shoe on her way to work. She only has one pair, ‘I just buy one pair and then/ Wear them out./ I wear them in /Then wear them out.’
What to do? She carries on regardless, meeting homeless Elaine (Kayla Meikle), who assures her that having one shoe is OK, then meeting clients (at a ‘a shoes-off sort of house’) and going in to the office. Eventually, she tries to buy some shoes but she’s reached her card’s limit and runs out of the shop with the them - only to be met by the surprisingly judgemental Elaine who tells her to return them. She goes to the police to return the shoes.
Even when things get worse, Viv remains sanguine.
What’s the play about?
Quite a few answers to that. A simple answer could be ‘A woman’s place in the modern world.’ Viv is a coper who tries to see a bright side wherever she can. But more than that it also seems to be an analogy for the lives many of us are leading today with the absence of things - some very significant others less so- meaning that nothing is quite like we would reasonably desire it to be. But maybe that’ s just life?
But go to the Royal Court to see for yourself. I think you’ll enjoy it.