E.V.Crowe’s Shoe Lady is definitely not a thriller, but embedded in its heart is a mystery. It’s not a whodunnit, but a why-they-dunnit? What on earth, you’re compelled to ask, could have possessed the Court’s creative supremo Vicky Featherstone to give house room to this self-indulgent non-starter about a privileged middle-class estate agent-cum-mum called Viv (Katherine Parkinson), for whom life is suddenly fraught with insecurity.
Her crisis begins when she loses a shoe during her daily commute. The loss is symbolic of the stress and pressures of everyday life and is an in-your-face metaphor for the discombobulation engendered by the world we live in today. Variations on this less-than-revelatory premise are played out over 65 uninvolving minutes that somehow manage to seem far longer.
En route to an inconclusive conclusion, we meet (briefly) her silent husband Kenny (Tom Kanji), her young son (Archer Brandon), and Elaine (Kayla Meikle), a cider-imbibing vagrant who has also lost one of her shoes. It is hard to imagine three more thankless roles in contemporary theatre. Even the curtains in Chloe Lamford’s unspecific set play a bigger role than any of the “supporting” cast. Indeed, the only really moving thing all evening is the treadmill or conveyor belt on which Viv symbolically takes one or two steps forward only to be driven several steps backwards as she attempts to come to terms with her current crisis. Not only is there an acute absence of sole, but also soul.
What Crowe seems to be describing in Shoe Lady is the kind of typical anxiety dream most of us, at some time or another, have had. For actors it’s not remembering their lines. For students it’s entering an exam without having done any studying. For journalists it's missing an important deadline. There’s also the one in which we leave the house forgetting to put our trousers on. I have, on occasion, experienced all of the above. But like Crowe’s play, these dreams soon vanish into the ether, leaving us none the worse for wear.
Featherstone’s lively production is a valiant attempt to buttress its foundation-free content, the best thing being the performance she draws from Parkinson, a fine actress whose mood swings – from physical and mental despair to false optimism – animate a moribund text. It’s basically a monologue with occasional interjections and, if little else, serves as a vehicle to demonstrate her limitless range. In the end, though, her stalwart efforts are not enough to salvage a pretty plotless, pointless evening.