The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife

Frederico Garcia Lorca
Needless Alley Collective
King's Head
(2011)

The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife production photo

The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife is infectiously passionate about storytelling and a humorous reaction to the stiff realism of early 20th century Spanish drama, despite lacking the acute social critique it promises. It's an engaging formal play with farce, featuring flamenco music, plenty of slapstick comedy and some overt melodrama.

The play follows the quarrels of a small-town wife and her much older husband. There's domestic tyranny from both protagonists; the wife (Georgia Farwell) cannot stand the pig-headedness of her husband, whilst the shoemaker (Matt Penman) would rather hide behind his piles of shoes that communicate with anyone. The village voices keen to break up their marriage gaze, peek, gossip and grumble through the doors and windows of this riotous home.

With precise musical direction from Rosie Hopkins and an energetic ensemble directed by Cordelia Howard, The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife is a colourful journey into the social pressures of a Catholic community, and a parade of archetypes that, despite a tad too much screaming, make for a potent historical portrait.

Yet this tableau vivant, full of energy and wit, is more a proposition than a play. It has an energetic dramatic rhythm well complimented by the musical score, yet it remains, at times, repetitive, failing to articulate the muscularity of the play's social critique.

Granted, Lorca's play is rather thin in comparison with his more established work; it is more focused on plot than narrative, and its fragmented quality does get in the way of its ambitions. Yet in Needless Alley Collective's production, the social aspect of the play remains sketchy, not holding its internal politics so tightly as to make the actions of its characters brimming with consequence. For that reason, The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife toys with an irony that is not quite sustained.

Yet despite its weak polemics, The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife remains an entertaining and lively evening, and the collective certainly bring out some of the play's more unique formal mechanisms. There's a well articulated introduction that fleshes out the position of the writer in regards to his work, a poem that's a shorter rendition of the play within the play, and skilled transitions between scenes that make up for the play's fragmentary nature.

The company do well to bring Lorca's play to life with dramatic lyricism and musical vivacity. The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife doesn't hold a life beyond the four walls of the theatre, its politics to weak to make a worthy fable, but it is an engaging and well crafted hour that makes the most of the play's mechanisms and cares for the lives of its animated characters.

Reviewer: Diana Damian