tue 17/09/2019

Shoes, Peacock Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Shoes, Peacock Theatre

Shoes, Peacock Theatre

If the shoe fits... leave it in the closet?

Leave your shoe fetish at the door? 'Shoes', at the Peacock Theatre

It is perfectly true that, as Arthur Marshall once said of Ibsen, I am Not a Fun One. A party really is a party without me there. And Shoes, now transferred from Sadler’s Wells, is not much of a party, whether I’m there or not. Conceived in cynicism by its composer/writer Richard Thomas (he admits, no, boasts, that he knew nothing about the subject until after he was commissioned to write the show); acquired in cynicism by Sadler’s Wells (it took a 15-minute pitch from an author who knew nothing about the subject) – what is there to admire, much less like?

man_union_jack_bootsNot a lot, as it turns out, and what there is is all in the second half, which leaves a long dreary hour to get through first. The sound balance and audibility problems that were reported from Sadler’s Wells last autumn have still not been fixed, so for much of the time, numbers come and go with little audience response, because no one has the faintest idea what is being sung.

Quite often, that is a plus, for Richard Thomas (author of Jerry Springer, the Opera, let us not forget) believes that crudity is, of and by itself, completely side-splitting. In "The Stiletto" Gemma O’Duffy, encased in a red plastic dress, sings, "I got a really great ass... Look at my ass", while the chorus yodels, "Without your ass you’re nothing". Well, that’s a cheery message to take home, girls, isn’t it?

But don’t worry. There are lots more people to sneer at: poor people living on estates (we know they’re beyond redemption: they’ve got fat stomachs and wear tracksuits), who sing "Prince Charming is minging". Then there’s the lyric that floats gently in the breeze: "Knock, knock, Kinder-whore, Sigmund Freud is at your door". What do all these things have in common? Yes, you’ve got it: they’re not funny. It’s not that they’re crude (although they are), or that they’re sexist (ditto), or even supercilious horseshit (ditto, ditto). Just. Not. Funny.

And that’s sort of a shame, because the second half picks up immeasurably. Choreographer Mark Smith’s "Vex and the City" number presents ladies who lunch as sisters who steal your shoes in a slick, sub-Michael Bennett number. "Imelda Argues with the Nation", choreographed by Stephen Mear (of Mary Poppins fame, who directed and created the bulk of the choreography for this show), has Imelda supported by two bodyguards who provide a running commentary – "Jesus!" "Oh come on!" – while mug shots of her shoes appear above her head. (I’m not entirely clear why she poses throughout using Evita-style gestures. Is it that if you’ve seen one singing dictator’s wife you’ve seen ’em all?)

Aletta Collins, who choreographed Rambert’s Awakenings last season, here has produced some nice insert pieces, where dancers parade across the stage in outré footwear – divers’ flippers, fisherman’s waders – reaching a peak with a pair of ski boots to some suitably amped-up Stravinsky-ish music as the frozen skier goes... nowhere.

black_leotard_red_and_pink_shoesAnd finally, almost at the very end, comes the number of the night, "Old Shoes". Choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, that darling of the contemporary dance scene (watch video of Sutra, below), "Old Shoes" is funny, touching and actually manages to make a point. Gemma O’Duffy, in wedding dress, sings of a pair of white-satin wedding shoes handed down by her grandmother, mother, uncle (it’s a long story) and more. The only problem is, grandpa was gay, mum only got married because she was knocked up (and from the look of the doll/baby, by someone who wasn’t dad), uncle is, well, confused. Finally, there is only one thing to do: burn the shoes.

If someone had taken responsibility for this show, made Thomas throw out half the numbers, and focus on what was worthwhile, not what filled out an evening, Shoes might have become what it so patently wants to be: a hen-night outing. But the Mamma Mia!-style jukebox musicals it's aping have the advantage that we walk in humming the songs. Shoes songs we don’t know, and unlike, say, Spamalot - another, but vastly superior, parody show - the music here is simply not good enough to carry us through.

Watch video of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Sutra below

Audibility problems persist, and for much of the time no one has the faintest idea of what is being sung. Quite often, that is a plus

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Comments

Ridiculous review from Judith, couldn't disagree more! I saw the same show. It is fantastic fun, the dancing is incredible, the score's beautiful and it's HILARIOUS!! A brilliantly executed, well realised piece of original theatre and so much better than half the drivel the west end usually churns out. There's a time and place for Ibsen (and its usually at the national every few months). This never pretended to be anything of the sort so Judith, cheer up or do us all a favour and stay in more.

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