Shoe Lady at the Royal Court Theatre
There is a certain quality to Shoe Lady – be it the episodic narrative, the sing-song nature of Katherine Parkinson’s voice or E.V. Crowe’s gently rhythmic writing – that makes it feel like a live-action children’s picture book. In a way, it wouldn’t be out of place at the Unicorn Theatre.
Viv (Parkinson) wakes up in a kind of domestic abyss. Bright yellow bedsheets are set against Chloe Lamford’s black void, any light quickly sucked up into the darkness. After a strange interaction with her curtains she leaves for work wearing two shoes. Definitely two. Certainly two. Only now she’s just got one on, her unsheathed foot increasingly bloodied by the unforgiving city landscape.
What follows is an anxious, if remarkably sedate, adventure of persistence. Viv can’t do anything but try and trudge forward on Lamford’s narrow treadmill, unable to afford a new pair of pavement pounders. She can’t wrest a pump off a similarly single-shoed woman in the park (Kayla Meikle). She’s dobbed in by a drape when she tries on the high heels of a potential homebuyer. And she’s unwilling to accept her boss’s orange wedges, fearing a professional faux pas too far.
As her day goes on, confessions of financial and personal struggle leak out. She buys one pair of shoes at a time and wears them until erosion. Her husband is being made redundant. Her own sales figures are slipping. She’s lost a child. The symbols of a middle-class life are hard to afford and difficult to maintain. Stopping is not an option.
Crowe and director Vicky Featherstone appear to have opted for a stranger, more abstracted version of the grind. But even then, Shoe Lady doesn’t lean into the odder elements – like the talking, caressing curtain – offered up near the start of the piece. A late song and dance feels airlifted in from a more interesting version of this production.
Parkinson operates in a state of dreamy, if pained, perseverance, failing to let reality stand in the way of her hobbling. She is unravelling, she is overwhelmed, yet she can’t allow today to be anything but another day. It is a recognisable impulse, and an economic fact for many. The trouble is the play is decidedly unemphatic in its depiction of these issues. All we have is Viv’s dazed words and her bloody foot. Never are her problems palpably felt. Nor is there any real urgency to her journey. The gristmill doesn’t turn with force but rather rolls with ease.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Shoe Lady is at the Royal Court Theatre from 4th March until 21st March 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.