Viv (Katherine Parkinson) has lost her shoe. Understandable – it happens to us all. Yet in E.V. Crowe’s 65-minute play, Shoe Lady, it becomes an impressive little metaphor on continuity, sentimentality and connection.
It sounds like a stretch, and looks absurd, with Viv spending several minutes at the start of her story conversing with a sentient curtain, though with the comedy great that is Parkinson at the helm, she knows it is. In amongst the hyperbole lies a deeper sense of realism, and within the rapid monologues delivered with perfect urgency, there’s moments where Viv remarks incredulously at her current situation, at the same time aware that she must keep moving forward.
The travelator on stage doesn’t help matters for Viv. It’s where she ends up for most of the play, hobbling forward without her right shoe. The creativity of Crowe’s writing and the symbolism behind the premise means there is as much to interpret from the loss of the item as there is from Viv’s need to be reunited with it. There is the idea of sentimentality at times, but most of it comes from the lack of a routine – “the inaudible beat and dance” of the London commute to which Viv says she has “two left feet”. What happens when you fall out of the loop in a capitalist society which tells you to keep moving?
Granted, for the majority of Crowe’s play we don’t hear from other people, though we do see them sometimes – a slapstick fight with Kayla Meikle’s Elaine is a moment of ridiculous fun. Even when others play a secondary role in her narrative, societal expectations and groupthink are both examined in Viv’s overthinking. The play’s conclusion, in a rather clever way, questions the part she plays in it all.
There are other ideas in Viv’s one-way conversations, however, which don’t quite stick. With its hurrying tempo, Shoe Lady doesn’t offer much time to process scenes and imagery audiences might not understand before it moves on to the next one. When Viv finally gets to work as an enthusiastic estate agent, her attempt to sell a house to a couple is hurried, a sense of atmosphere or their characters not quite apparent in the ‘he said, she said’ dialogue. Parkinson doesn’t offer much clues in intonation and the minimalist staging doesn’t really establish an environment.
Though it is clear why such an approach has been adopted by director Vicky Featherstone and designer Chloe Lamford. The expansive set gives Viv’s speech the room to breathe in a space which is mainly the travelator, with other environments such as a bed and a tree inserted when need be. Elsewhere, the appearance of props as and when required, such as a glass of water after a few minutes walking barefoot, further taps into the central concept of everyday items being used to ground us – to aid us on our ‘journey’, as it were.
Then there’s the exploration of binaries: loss and reunion, individualism and collectivism, nothingness and something. “It’s incredibly hard, isn’t it,” thinks Viv, “to stay afloat.” In a tireless performance in the lead role, we feel it in Parkinson’s voice – the sort of delicate, dreamy tone which sounds like it could soon break under the pressure of it all.
In staging, script and performance, Shoe Lady develops the small idea of losing a shoe into a large scale event, snowballing and expanding in a truly thought-provoking fashion. It may look and sound daft to some, but never has a shoe had such meaning.
Shoe Lady is now playing at the Royal Court in the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs until 21 March.
Production Images: Manuel Harlan.
Disclaimer: I was invited to see Shoe Lady for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.