Shoes

Written and composed by Richard Thomas
Sadler's Wells
Peacock Theatre
(2011)

Shoes production photo

Premiered in September 2010 at Sadler's Wells, Shoes is back for an eight-week run at the Peacock Theatre, where the hen parties will be able to strut their stuff, as the show more or less knowingly predicts.

So much talent brought together for such a fluffy two-hour candyfloss show. The performers are excellent, as are the clever animations from Tim Hope and Gaëlle Denis. And the set design by Tom Pye with its giant strappy stiletto shoe dominating the stage contributes spectacularly to the tongue-in-cheek spirit of this good-natured if shapeless show. Sloppy form, what does that matter when there are lots of slick song and dance routines and lots of verve?

Richard Thomas's gleeful signature style, seen in his irreverent co-creation Jerry Springer The Opera, combines with the big show-stopping forte of choreographic doyen of the West End musical Stephen Mear in a musical revue style show dedicated to shoe fetishists everywhere. But, 'if you don't like shoes this is going to be a long evening' we are warned. Be warned, even if you do like shoes.

Thankfully, these two kindred souls make room for outside contributions, especially hip hop from Kate Prince of ZooNation and conceptual contemporary dance from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, which prove to be the most rewarding and interesting of the evening.

Kate Prince is a natural choice for Sneaker Addict 1, 2, and 3 solos - a track-suited man-boy in a Nike shoe shop spinning and break dancing with neon-laced shoes. Cherkaoui's Salvatore Ferragamo raises everyone's game: the Mozartian coloratura spoofing is given dynamic shape and class by Cherkaoui, whilst his narrative structure for Old Shoes boxed inside its upended wedding photo frame gives visual intelligence and off-side humour to a Larkinesque dysfunctional multi-generational family.

Amusing silent film style solo inserts (to orchestral music) saluting specialist footwear such as flippers, clown shoes, fishing waders, and skis (to Stravinsky-ish Rite of Spring-ish strains) bring relief from over-egged dance numbers and over-amplified songs.

Does Gemmy O'Duffy's big voice need a mike? Changing gowns and roles swiftly she is the real McCoy, a vrai 'chantoose'. But sound imbalance distorts the words, which are the point of the show - if you don't hear the joke you don't get it.

Pastiche, parody, ribald drollery, one-liners, sight gags, great dancing and singing, and a grand finale, what a mix! Is this panto? All that energy on a hotchpotch show! Surfing a tide of dubious wit, cliché and dextrous wordplay, the selfless dancers (Alexis Owen Hobbs, a West End hoofer trouper, stands out) are obviously in their element, which is more than can be said for your willing reviewer.

The shoes, be they stilettos that require car testing dummy crash helmets, saintly Birkenstocks, sheepish Ugg boots, creepy guy Hush Puppies, Glitter platforms, skinhead and PC uniting DMs, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, or Manolo Blahnik, blah, blah, blah, do not entirely redeem this one-joke show.

The thrown together Shoes will inevitably draw the crowds for a raucously good night out on the town. Judgement will not matter; criticism is irrelevant. What's not to like . Hmm, that's the intention. Do not fall for that (prince) charming glass slipper routine. More of an overstuffed pumpkin than a classy coach chassis.

I'd say Richard Thomas was an opera composer manqué, if his (libretto) and Mark-Antony Turnage's new opera, Anna Nicole, promising 'sex, extreme language and drug abuse', were not opening this week at the Royal Opera House. Two press nights in one week - not bad for a pasticheur!

Till 3rd April 2011

Reviewer: Vera Liber