E V Crowe
Royal Court Theatre
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs
On the surface, Shoe Lady is little more than a quirky, hour-long comedy solo (with brief appearances from friends) that beautifully showcases the acting talents and comic timing of Katherine Parkinson. The fact that it is directed by Vicky Featherstone and presented on the Royal Court’s main stage strongly hints that viewers should be looking a little more deeply for metaphors or social parallels.
The setting, designed by Chloe Lamford, utilises a bare stage, with two sets of stairs heading into the depths flanking what is effectively an acting peninsula, towards which single simple props descend from the flies to set each scene.
Miss Parkinson plays Viv, a mildly neurotic but wildly unsuccessful estate agent with a silent husband who is about to become redundant in more than one sense of the word and a sweet child. After an unfortunate incident with the bedroom curtains cause a minor crisis and inevitable lateness for work, Viv suffers a far more distressing setback. On the way to work, Viv suddenly discovers that one of her high-heeled shoes has gone missing meaning that she has been hobbling around unwittingly.
This might all sound a little far-fetched and the play does require a significant suspension of disbelief, especially when we discover that our heroine owned just a single pair of shoes and now only possesses a lone shoe. The heavily made-up actress spends the remainder of the playing time hobbling around and involving herself in inconsequential interactions with hubby, son and someone, played by Kayla Meikle, who appears to be homeless and also goes through life utilising a one-shoe strategy.
Beyond an unsatisfying burglary, increasing damage to the bare and soon bloody foot and lots of existential navel-gazing, not a lot goes on in the life of a lady who suffers goes through life enduring Chaplinesque misfortunes. That leaves viewers plenty of time to consider the hidden subtext and justification for presenting what might otherwise be dismissed as a lightweight piece of froth on a major new writing stage.
The answer is almost certainly that by becoming “different” as the only person hobbling around on one foot, our frustratingly lovable guide might be seen to represent all of those from put-upon minorities who struggle to be heard in our country today.
An alternative view might be that, albeit exacerbated, Viv’s concerns are those of any woman in a society that still has a habit of treating them as inferiors, particularly when many of the less assertive and weary like Viv are forced into accepting that role for themselves, lacking the strength to fight their corner.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher