Viv loses her shoe on the commute to work one morning. And she tells us this. She reminds us a lot actually. She’s your typical middle-class working mother; an estate agent with a kid in a seemingly uneventful marriage. She visits some places, as best she can with only one shoe, and it’s not long before her shoeless foot produces wet red blood. She gets it everywhere, carelessly. But it doesn’t leave a mark. She pops to the shops. Does a house viewing (trying on some other shoes and having a run-in with a talking curtain in the process). She even visits the local police station to see if anyone’s handed it in. Spoiler alert…they haven’t.
Chloe Lamford works her usual magic with a set of black walls that angle in towards the back, Viv (Katherine Parkinson) getting smaller and smaller as she moves towards us, and increasingly lost as she finds herself isolated towards the back. This works as a sort of echo chamber, repetitive pleas, depleted cries for help lost until she’s nothing more than a distant silhouette on the windowsill. She moves back and forth towards and away from us on a central travellator. Even the large front curtain falls into place in a temper, abruptly, and two large gaps for staircases dig underneath the stage either side of Viv’s bed. She’s at close risk of slipping and falling off the edge.
E.V. Crowe’s absurdist concept attempts to evoke pity for middle-class anxieties. The missing shoe becomes the struggle; she gets on with her day just fine, save the bloody foot, but it’s more humiliation than genuine suffering. To find the shoe would solve all the problems, apparently. Crowe’s concept makes a promising start, but I’m not convinced the premise ever finds enough weight for the effect to really pay off. It becomes a play about nothing. Literally nothing as Viv’s child opens a birthday present and discovers just that: an empty gift. It’s a back and forth dialogue with oneself that does from time to time limp its way into the depths of wit, but for the most part, remains unextraordinary. Rather than satirising the middle-class figure, it makes her seem a bit of a wet sponge. She can’t fix the curtain properly. She doesn’t even have the gut to ask for her annual leave for fear of her employers hating her even more (they probably don’t really care). Even the fight she finds herself in with a homeless woman is half-arsed and deflated.
Katherine Parkinson’s performance is, regardless, a compelling thing. She finds that very thin line between the feeling of depletion and investment in her cause; a lost gaze, a physical imbalance in which her anxieties manifest (helped of course by her hobbling around with one shoe). Despite the brevity of the dialogue, the short, snappy lines which she clips with her voice, she still manages to draw out the hopelessness with a warmth of character. It’s not so much about rooting for her or for anyone else, rather we’re just not that fussed.
There’s some stuff to be said about labour. Stage Managers very visibly setting her shoes and other bits in place. Ultimately, they’re doing more hard labour than Viv, who doesn’t even need to dress herself. I think I wanted more of this. This is where it feels like there’s something to say. Instead, we’re left with a performance which, despite a gripping performance from Parkinson, just doesn’t say much at all. Like the place her shoe is finally found upon, it’s an unextraordinary thing.
This production of Shoe Lady has now been cancelled. For more information head to the Royal Court website.