‘Shoe Lady’ review CANCELLED

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
Shoe Lady, Royal Court, 2020
Photograph: Manuel Harlan Katherine Parkinson

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Katherine Parkinson stars as a woman whose life spirals out of control after when she loses a shoe in EV Crowe’s satire on middle-class precariousness

'Shoe Lady' is cancelled due to Covid-19

Sometimes the tiniest moments of body horror are the ones that jolt you the hardest. Midway through EV Crowe’s mesmerisingly odd new play ‘Shoe Lady’, Katherine Parkinson tries to shove her bleeding foot into a hot-pink stiletto. It looks agonising. And that raw foot is also the play’s most hard-working metaphor: standing in for the pain of returning to work after having a kid, for carrying on when that feels impossible, for waking up one day to find that what used to feel natural is suddenly painful and wrong.

When Viv loses one of her shoes, she's got no way of replacing it, so she hobbles into the office with one foot vulnerably bare. She meets this calamity with a kind of clownish, Mary Poppins-esque brightness, cooing over each fresh indignity like it’s a child’s scraped knee. ‘I'm ready to work,’ she continually announces, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. She’s trapped in a world where objects are unreliable, out to get her. Director Vicky Featherstone and designer Chloe Lamford’s studiedly theatrical production is a fairground funhouse, tricked out with a bedroom window curtain that rises just beyond her reach, or a conveyor belt so fast that it makes her hobble like a newly shod foal. Viv's mostly mute husband Kenny and adorable child are just compliant cut-outs in her puppet-show of a life.

There’s a political edge somewhere in here, too. ‘Shoe Lady’ adds flesh to buzzwords like ‘hard-working families’ or the ‘squeezed middle’ or the ‘just-about-managing’. Viv and Kenny are constantly under threat of losing their jobs, constantly scraping at the bottom of their overdrafts. Crowe’s text is patterned with phrases gleaned from Tory rhetoric, lightly ironised. At one point Viv brightly declares that ‘It takes real fortitude to be in essence and spirit middle class in this town.’ She’s myopic, unable to see that some might have it harder. She’s horrified by the idea of sitting down with homeless woman Elaine, who’s also only half-shod. But apart from one brilliantly choreographed fight between Elaine and Viv, there’s a sense that real darkness is missing from this portrait of a self-absorbed, crumbling woman – a lack of willingness to move from polite irony to a more blistering satire.

Still, ‘Shoe Lady’ is fascinating for the way it takes the Royal Court’s huge stage and uses it to tell a tiny, domestic story. Parkinson floats through the play in a dream-like haze, capturing the brittle brightness that comes with extreme sleep-deprivation, a manic older sister to all those adorably klutzy romcom heroines. ‘Shoe Lady’ is most powerful as an evocation of a specific feeling – of losing control of your life and wrestling fruitlessly to get it back.

By: Alice Saville

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