The Man in the Woman's Shoes

Mikel Murfi
Loco & Reckless Productions
Tricycle Theatre

Mikel Murfi Credit: Mark Douet
Mikel Murfi Credit: Mark Douet
Mikel Murfi Credit: Mark Douet

The Man in the Woman's Shoes has already basked in standing ovations and 5-star reviews from its time in New York and Dublin, and so it was inevitable it would stomp its way towards a stage in London before too long with gusto and confidence. And there's nowhere more appropriate than the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn; a venue with a long history of spearheading and promoting Irish plays and playwrights.

Mikel Murfi is typically modest in his YouTube rant on the theatre's web site about this one-man show he wrote and stars in. He says it's a play with "no drama" about a man "walking the streets of Ireland in a pair of woman's shoes".

Coming from a small town similar to that in Sligo where the play is set, I can guarantee you that such a sight would most certainly be classed as "drama" and would probably even lead in the local rag and be the topic of every conversation in every pub, café and church pew for miles around.

What's beautiful about this play is its honesty. There are no gimmicks—it's a heartfelt performance about real, ordinary, simple folk doing everyday, mundane tasks. The drama comes within Murfi's writing and his use of the Irish language, its pace, tone and deep understanding of how ordinary people use it. His use of local terms and sayings is pure poetry that won't be lost on those who aren't from Ireland.

Murfi stands alone and exposed for the entire 75 minutes of the play, rarely pausing for breath, which in itself is to be applauded. During Pat Farron's 'dander' from his humble rural cottage, over the hill and into town, we get to meet over a dozen or so eccentric and characterful townsfolk. None of the chats last long as Pat is on a mission—to deliver a pair of shoes he's mended for his beloved Kitsey Rainey.

Now for the twist. Pat Farron is the town mute—having never uttered a single word in his life. What we hear is the moving and powerful thoughts of a man trapped within his own mind. Pat only has his eyes, hands and vivid imagination to help him get across what's going on within.

There are plenty of theories buzzing around the town as to why he can't speak. One of those being that the fairies stole his tongue, but of course Pat is too smart to believe a single word of that. He points to a much deeper and more profound reason, reflecting that “sadness can stop a boys tongue”. Whatever the reason, and despite being different, he seems to be respected and embraced by those within the town.

Playing multiple characters on stage without as much as a single prop, costume change or sidekick to distract the audience for a moment is without doubt one of the hardest things an actor can pull off. To do it relentlessly and single-handed with no fewer that sixteen characters is little short of genius. A simple twist of a wrist, flick of a hip or stoop of the back and Murfi has morphed himself into a completely different character. The variety of voices also helps, but even without this his impersonation and multiple character acting is beyond exceptional and a joy to experience.

And so the shoes are delivered just in time for Kitsey to slip into them for her moment. As coach of the local football team, she's a woman on a mission determined to make the town's team of feckless left-footers a success.

Game over and she has one last job to do, and that's to pay Pat for the shoes. He knows payment comes in many forms having earlier received a ham sandwich and free entry into the football match for another job he did. But Kitsey’s proposal was something much greater than a ham sandwich, and not something Pat had ever been offered before.

Murfi demonstrates his own versatility in The Man in the Woman's Shoes and in a sense pays homage to the Sligo folk he met during a spell travelling his home county doing research for the play. He makes the simplest of conversations and deepest of thoughts fold seamlessly into one another in this slick and powerful performance.

Reviewer: Thomas Magill

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