Theatre Review: Shoe Lady, Royal Court Theatre

I remember an old joke from when I was growing up, I think told by Bob Monkhouse or someone else from his generation. A hippy gets on a train wearing one shoe and a commuter asks "did you lose a shoe?". The hippy replies, "No man, I found one." This new play by EV Crowe reminded me of that long lost gag. How a single absent shoe can mean so much.

IT Crowd star Katherine Parkinson stars as Viv, the wife and mother who is trying to keep it all together and overcome the constant threat of chaos in her life. First it is a curtain that won't stay up but then as she sets off for work – she is an estate agent, or in some other kind of respectable sales jobs – it is losing a shoe. As she is preparing to leave the house one already has a sense of impending something or other. Her silver high heels are set out like Oz's ruby slippers. Or maybe this will be a modern Cinderella fairy story?

But there is no Prince Charming afoot. A shoe goes missing en route and life will never be the same again. Should she steal a pair from someone she sees perched on the toilet? Should she carry on as if nothing is wrong? Despite a limp and increasingly bloody toes? It starts off very funny, and we all know Parkinson can do funny, but then it starts to get much darker. It reminds us that maybe we are all just a piece of footwear away from total meltdown.

It feels particularly resonant at the moment with supermarket shelves being raided for every scrap of toilet paper. Are people losing their minds rather than their shoes? There are hints of Beckett in the absurdism and Kafka too. Parkinson's character is not just lacking a shoe, she also has to tackle the sudden surge of previously unseen red tape involved in carrying on without one. She is suddenly an outcast, hanging out with a semi-barefoot cider drinker by the side of the road.

The tension is ratcheted up by Parkinson performing for much of the time on the stark stage on a moving travelator, which reminded me of Richard Gadd's solo show a few years ago performed on a treadmill. Parkinson doesn't quite work up as much sweat as Gadd but it is still a full-on performance, directed by Vicky Featherstone and with support from Kayla Meikle as the cider drinker, Tom Kanji as Viv's husband and in this performance Beatrice White as Viv's child.

The result is a funny, scary play about how behind the neat curtains normality hangs like a thread. Pull it and the whole edifice can fall apart. I did wonder why she didn't just nip into Russell & Bromley and pick up a pair of temporary pumps, but maybe I'm being too literal. There's clearly no business like shoe business. 

Until March 21. Tickets and info here

Picture: Manuel Harlan

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