Writer: E. V. Crowe
Director: Vicky Featherstone
Defining Shoe Lady as a play doesn’t seem quite right. There are few interactions between the protagonist and her co-stars for one thing- in fact they hardly feature at all, besides serving as silent presences- and for another, there isn’t exactly a narrative, but rather a poetic nightmare, making sense in the way only a dream can.
Viv (Katherine Parkinson) is a middle-class lady with all the usual trappings: husband, son, job as an estate agent, Waitrose shopping list. Her day begins much like any other, giving the little’n breakfast, getting ready for work, trying and failing to open a half-broken curtain without it falling down, and badgering her husband into action. On her commute however, Viv discovers she has somehow lost a shoe and her day is entirely derailed as she tries to hobble her way through the city with a bloody foot: “I never knew how much this city hurt me until today.” Writer E. V. Crowe walks a fine line throughout between self-deprecating humour and existential trauma, often wearing both hats, but it’s simple lines like this that resonate with a London audience who, no doubt, have had their fair share of days to hobble through bloody-footed.
Parkinson, better known for her award-winning role in The IT Crowd among other things, is ideally cast, bringing that much needed innate comedy to what might otherwise be interpreted as an hour-long monologue of middle-class ennui. Because the story is completely absurd (spending two days walking around, getting public transport, going to work with only one shoe; going to the police station to report said lost shoe; hearing the curtain speak…) it is slightly tricky to grip on to the character and to empathise with her choices. But Parkinson is so endearing, she keeps the audience on side regardless.
It’s also a bizarre experience to hear pretty much only a woman speak for a full hour, despite a man being present- neither good nor bad, it’s merely rare and therefore refreshing.
Production is at once sparse and lavish: Centre-stage is a treadmill, with seemingly sheer drops on either side, and a large window that opens and closes to throw various shapes of light (designed by Natasha Chivers) across the stage. Other large props appear, the broken curtain for example, or Viv’s marital bed, but only as they pass through her tunnelled experience. Chloe Lamford’s design is not intended to create a world for us to invest in, but rather to experience Viv’s disconnection with her world, and to great effect. A wondering, plinking piano, composed by the inimitable Matthew Herbert, pairs well with this sense of oppressive and yet somehow comical detachment.
It’s hard to know exactly what the audience is meant to take from Shoe Lady, as directed by Vicky Featherstone, excepting a dream-like dazed feeling as we drift out of the auditorium, trying to digest the past hour. But whatever it is, it is beautiful, sad, funny and a near perfect endeavour.
Runs until 21 March 2020