What makes theatre so constantly intriguing, is its boundless opportunity for innovation. Creativity works best when it lacks constraints and is allowed to develop organically from a singular impetus.
Absurdist theatre fully takes hold of this notion, experimenting with the abnormal as a way of changing our perceptions and questioning things in a different light. One great example is Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, set in a small French village during World War Two where the inhabitants are turning into rhinoceros, written as a satire of the German occupation of France. Right Left With Heels is also of this ilk, exploring an intense subject matter in an oddly comical way.
The performance features two actors – one is the left shoe and the other is the right. The shoes are those of Magda, wife to Joseph Goebbels, Propaganda Minister for Nazi Germany, and close friends of the Führer himself. Whilst the shoes attitudes are of their own volition, they are very much a product of Magda, shaping their outlook on the world as they pass from feet to feet, through the decades following the Goebbels’ suicide.
The theme is obviously hard-hitting, a retrospective on the times and attitudes of Nazi-Era Germany towards the world and its people. The shoes, embodied by the performers, behave so harshly, so seriously, that it becomes a dark comedy of sorts. Rather than easing the tension, this seems to intensify it, I find myself feeling ashamed to have laughed. Their reactions to the events of the play feel human, though it is always clear that they have no control over what they do – they are only shoes, pawns to the actions of others. So, you can imagine their indignation when they end up put on trial in Nuremberg.
Through amazing physical theatre, actors Rosa French (the right shoe) and Francesca Isherwood (the left shoe) bring life to the shoes, illuminating a connection between the two. Similar in movement, but slightly out of sync, they are unique in some ways, and identical in others – like twins. They use their entire bodies, not just to move as shoes, but to personify them, finding a journey in their movements which expresses their desires and their attitudes. All of which differs from the natural human expression.
Given the sudden announcement of lockdown across the UK, it is incredible that French and Isherwood, along with director Rasa Niurkaite, were able to rehearse and film this production in such a short time. The actors spoke of having only 6 hours of rehearsal in the space, before they were confined to working together online until the filming. Whilst they have performed this play before, they revisited the text afresh, bringing a different approach than in the past. With no stage directions in the play, they had complete liberty to stage the piece in whichever way they felt best conveyed the message and the life of the shoes.
Like most theatre of the absurd, I’m not yet sure what I take away from this production. It is marvellously performed and beautifully staged, but I feel as though there is a connection missing. Perhaps it lies with the playwright, perhaps it lies with me, and my lack of understanding. I do however leave with a playful imagination, fervently contemplating the movement of objects through time, the history they hold, and the stories they could tell.
Right Left With Heels is showing online until 22 November. For more information and to book, visit the Voila! Festival website.